Showing posts with label theology. Show all posts
Showing posts with label theology. Show all posts

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

saint augustine on 'works'

Wouldest thou then have 'good days' and 'life,' and wouldest thou not 'refrain thy tongue from evil, and thy lips that they speak no guile'?  Alert to the reward, slow to the work!  And to whom if he does not work is the reward rendered?  I would that in thy house thou wouldest render the reward even to him that does work!  For to him that works not, I am sure thou dost not render it.  And why?  Because thou owest nothing to him that does not work!  And God hath a reward proposed.  What reward?  'Life and good days,' which life we shall desire, and unto which days we all strive to come.  The promised reward He will give us.  What reward?  'Life and good days.'  And what are 'good days'?  Life without end, rest without labour.

Great is the reward He hath set before us:  in so great a reward as is set before us, let us see what He hath commanded us.  For enkindled by the reward of so great a promise, and by the love of the reward, let us make ready at once our strength, our sides, our arms, to do His bidding....  So then in proper order, first 'depart from evil,' and 'do good;' first 'gird up thy loins,' and then 'light the lamp.'  And when thou hast done this, wait in assured hope for 'life and good days.'  'Seek peace, and ensue it;' and then with a good face wilt thou say unto the Lord, 'I have done what Thou hast bidden, render me what Thou hast promised.'

(From Sermon LVIII in the Philip Schaff series)

Monday, August 06, 2007

there is no plain sense of scripture

The notion that there is "a plain sense" of Scripture, and correlatively that Scripture alone should govern our life in Communion, is mistaken.  It is belied by the existence of many thousands of Protestant denominations, all of which have their origin in disagreements over what Scripture says.

Rather, as Paul told Timothy, the Church is the pillar and foundation of the Truth.  The Lord gave the Apostles magisterial (magister = teacher) and juridical authority, which they passed on to their successors, and which they passed on to their successors -- a process that will continue until the Lord returns in glory.  It is the bishops of the Church, as successors of the Apostles, who have authority to interpret Scripture and promulgate doctrine (docere = to teach).

We may, of course, interpret it too, but only within the parameters of their interpretation.

Friday, July 20, 2007

catholicity -- part one: the primitive unity

The following was first published in 1947. It is from:


A Study in the Conflict of Christian Traditions in the West

being a Report presented to His Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury

E.S. Abbott
H.J. Carpenter
V.A. Demant
Gregory Dix
T.S. Eliot
A.M. Farrer
F.W. Green
A.G. Herbert
R.C. Mortimer
A.M. Ramsey
A. Reeves
C.H. Smyth
The Bishop of Southampton
L.S. Thornton

Part I, Section 1

It is inevitable that in trying to understand the problems which arise from our divisions we should look back to the primitive unity created by our Lord, and ask what sort of unity this was. It consisted no only in unity of organization or in the promise of a world-wide universality, nor yet in the bond of charity: it consisted rather in a whole via vitae which included belief, worship and morals. It is often remembered that in the seventeenth chapter of St. John our Lord prayed for the unity of His disciples: it is sometimes forgotten, however, in our modern discussions that this prayer for their unity was linked with His prayer for their sanctification in the truth: 'Sanctify them in Thy truth; Thy word is truth'. The unity of Christians, coming as it does from the unity of the Father and the Son, is interwoven with their sanctification in the truth which our Lord delivers.

The unity, in all its aspects, has sprung directly out of the entrance of God into human history in the eschatological event of Redemption. This event includes the age-long preparation of Israel for the Messiah. It has its centre in His birth, life, death and resurrection. It includes no less the church which is His Body, and the Spirit who through this Body brings tinto the world the powers of the age to come. It is vital in our believe that the Church is a part of the eschatological event, and a Divine fact. For the essence of the Church is our Lord, who is both the summing-up of the old Israel, and the head of the new Israel. Thus the members of the church do not constitute the unity themselves: rather they are brought into a unity which is there already. In the words of Archbishop Frederick Temple:

'Men speak as if Christians came first and the Church after: as if the origin of the Church was in the wills of the individuals who composed it. But, on the contrary, throughout the teaching of the Apostles, we see it is the Church that comes first, and the members of it afterwards.... In the New testament... the Kingdom of Heave is already in existence, and men are invited into it. The Church takes its origin, not in the will of man, but in the will of the Lord Jesus Christ.... Everywhere men are called int: they do not come in and make the Church by coming. They are called into that which already exists: they are recognized as members when they are within; but their membership depends on their admission, and not upon their constituting themselves into a body in the sight of the Lord'.

(from the Sermon: Catholicity and Individualism, preached at the consecration of Truro Cathedral.)

To be continued.... Comments so far?

Friday, June 08, 2007

take. eat.

The sacrifice of the God-man, Jesus Christ, in its radical self-referentiality refuses to permit itself to be objectified in anything like a sense-empirical transaction, nor even in intellectualization. Instead it draws the independent subjectivity of the beholder into itself. As death, it kills those who witness it. The epistemological free agent is incapable of resisting its radical compulsion, and is thus incapable of remaining epistemologically free. The Cross transforms those who would circumscribe it in thought, word, or deed. All things pass away in the theanthropic sacrifice, and all things are made new in the theanthropic resurrection. What the Cross compels, therefore, is a participation in itself. The Cross is a calling to itself; it is the true and universal human vocation. (Pseudo) Dionysius the Areopagite speaks in the following way of God the Son, in his singular Gift: “Through an excess of loving goodness He transcends Himself, and descends to dwell in all things by virtue of the ecstatic power beyond all being that comes forth from Himself,” (The Divine Names, 4.13). It is therefore not in an awesome display of what we have come to call “power” that the glory of God is revealed. (Our conceptualizations themselves must be reconfigured, born again.) Just as the divine Gift is entirely gratuitous, though it cannot be withstood; so the Power and the Glory, though incapable of being resisted, are themselves manifested in their Bearer having been entirely overcome and emptied. The Greek Orthodox theologian Archimandrite Vasileios, abbot of the Athonite monastery Stavronikita, puts it this way: “…We see the glory of God, not in the form of the Pantokrator, but revealed as it appears in the act of the Father’s offering and sacrifice of the Son: in the ultimate humiliation of the Servant of God,” (Hymn of Entry, 58).

The radical nature of this Gift is further radicalized in that it is supratemporalized, manifest as such in the liturgical sacrifice of the Eucharist. That is, the Gift gives itself supratemporally on thousands of altars through the millennia, and around the world. In the catholic identification of the consecrated Eucharistic elements with the flesh of the God-man, that is with the very substantiality of the Gift, Christ is “offered to us, broken and poured out,” (Hymn of Entry, 59). The economics of sacrifice thereby become altogether one-sided. It isn’t just that Christ is given to us; it isn’t just that he is given to us broken and poured out. The sacrificial Gift of Christ is his own flesh as food, his own blood as drink. It is given as that which is taken, in the fullest possible sense; rather, that which is not merely taken, but taken and consumed. The Gift is radically appropriated by the recipient. It is internalized in the fullest sense, and in being internalized, it internalizes the recipient. Christ enters substantially into the communicant and thus brings him, in turn, into the divine economy, into the very heart of the paschal mystery. The compulsion of the sacrificial Gift manifests itself in being consumed, and in consuming the consumer. “Out of the eater came something to eat, out of the strong came something sweet,” (Judges 14.14). The experiential subject of the divine Sacrifice becomes its object, he is appropriated by the Sacrifice, and becomes the sacrificial victim in union with the Lamb, eternally offered before the throne of the Father.

It becomes clear in what sense the pure gift is beyond the horizon of expectation. The fetishized pure gift is only capable of being offered by a god. It only occurs in myth. In every case of thematized, temporal giving or sacrifice, the do ut des of paganism, the Derridean concern obtains. The gift is cancelled out by the expectation of reciprocity. It becomes, as soon as it is given and recognized, a market transaction, an exchange, and as such, a non-gift. But insofar as the pure gift only occurs in myth, insofar as it is only capable of being offered by the god, it does occur in the Christ myth. And because the holy sacrifice is God offering God, it is actual, and therefore possible. Because the sacrificial Gift is a gift of the theanthropic, of that which is very God and very man, it is capable of bridging the ontological, conceptual, and linguistic gap between the Giver and the receiver. It does so by bringing the recipient into the heart of the Gift, by transforming the receiver into that which is offered, into the Gift itself.

What is necessary is not so much a demythologizing of the event, but rather a mythologizing. It must be removed from the realm of the scientific, of the sociological. The mythologization occurs on two levels, both of which constitute instances of the signification of the Gift. First there is the pure gift itself, the sacrifice of the flesh of God which, as has been noted, is entirely self-referential. It is beyond the pale of predication and conceptual circumscription. The experiencing subject stands before the Gift on the Gift’s own terms. In terms of signifier and signified, the two are one. The signifier is that which it signifies. And the same instance of self-referentiality takes place again in the liturgical action of the Eucharist. In the Eucharist, the gift is disbursed. The Eucharistic elements serve as a prism, for the refraction of the divine ενέργεια. In the sacrifice, thanksgiving (ευχαριστία) is offered to God for the sacrifice itself and for the totality of divine Grace. Bread and wine are offered as symbols of our own categorical creative initiatives, as return-gifts. The offerers of the sacrifice are themselves offered in their totality, body and soul. And most fundamentally, the Eucharistic sacrifice is the Gift of God, the divine flesh offered in virtue of the sacerdotal grace of the officiant, acting in persona Christi. Therefore, it is the same Gift as that of which it is a signifier, and that which it signifies. By being at once signifier and signified, the sacrifice manifests its power of compulsion. As referend, it is beyond the horizon of expectation, utterly mythologized; yet as the term of reference, it draws itself into the economy of the same, is thematized in the realm of the categorical and becomes itself an object of experience.

Friday, May 11, 2007

the challenge of communion: vocation deferred: father ephraim radner does it again

If you haven’t read Father Ephraim Radner’s latest essay, Vocation Deferred, do it now. It is long and challenging but, as usual, well worth the time and effort, particularly for those who are concerned about or involved in the ongoing Anglican realignment.

Various people have commented on it. The comments I have read so far are at Stand Firm, and All Too Common.

In what follows, I will speak to a few of the objections to Father Ephraim’s piece that I have read from various friends. I will then offer my view of what Father Ephraim is on about, and why it is absolutely critical that Anglicans of good will take up the issues he raises.

I admit that I really like Father Ephraim's essay. For one thing, it represents one of the precious few constructive projects going on within Anglicanism – and a project with profound ramifications for Christendom at large, given our divisions since 1054. With regard to Anglicanism in particular, Radner’s essay also addresses a very deep and terminal deficiency: that we Anglicans have a radically underdeveloped and attenuated ecclesiology, practically useless. What Radner is getting at (and I agree with him) is that our ecclesiological deficiencies are more fundamental and systemically problematical than the doctrinal / confessional innovations being promulgated by ECUSA and others; that the former are a necessary condition of the latter, and therefore that the doctrinal / confessional problems will be resolvable only if the ecclesiological issues are first addressed.

Those who are concerned about confessional standards (like Texanglican's comments here and Fr Matt Kennedy's here) are right in a sense. But Radner’s project is more fundamental; the problems he is seeking to address must be addressed BEFORE any kind of confessional standards can be upheld by the Communion. For who now, at the Communion level, has the authority to promulgate them? Lambeth Resolutions, as ECUSA has correctly pointed out, are non-binding, etc. Primates ARE, as things currently stand, little more than “foreign prelates” outside their own jurisdictions. That’s not as it should be; but it’s a fact nonetheless. Because the Anglican Communion is an accident of history (though, I believe, at the same time an orchestration of divine providence), its jurisdictions at the national level remain autonomous. And autonomy, as Radner notes, is a fundamentally unchristian principle, radically at odds with the scriptural call to mutual submission and divine heteronomy in Christ. “The very discussion of the church in terms of ‘body parts’ rules out ‘autonomy’ as a working term,” says Radner. Indeed.

The irony is that the practical autonomy of Anglican jurisdictions, while jeopardizing the Communion’s catholicity, has at the same time ensured that the catholicity of Anglican jurisdictions at the local (diocesan) level has remained possible. Where would Fort Worth be without the affirmation, at the Communion level, of the “two integrities” vis-à-vis the ordination of women (most recently in the Panel of Reference’s report on Ft. Worth). Agreeing to disagree has its advantages; but it is proving fatal for the Communion per se. Radner says:

“..the smallest unit of the ‘local’, according to the Report, is the ‘diocese’. This means that bishops are the ‘local’ expression of whole (in the familiar sense of embodying the “whole church” while presiding at the Eucharist).

But the explicitly episcopal character of this representation has profound practical implications, most pointedly underlined when episcopal links are ‘visibly’ severed and ‘mutual recognition’ of episcopal communion is jeopardized or lost.”

If “autonomy” is our fundamental working principle as Anglicans, as many American prelates have touted it as being, how can we meaningfully claim communion in one lord, one faith, one baptism? Saying it doesn’t make it so. And if it is merely affirmed, while having no ramifications in the life of particular churches (provincial or diocesan), then what could communion possibly mean? Indeed it looks as though ECUSA has embraced a fundamentally hateful working definition of “love” – a definition that is basically about apathy with regard to the other. “Live and let live” is its motto, which is radically at odds with what the Lord said: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments,” and again, “My sheep hear my voice and FOLLOW ME.” His gift of communion was not without demands: he gives communion to those who believe in him through the teaching of the Apostles (Jn. 17.20). It is no coincidence that the foil on which turns ECUSA’s refusal of the gift of communion, with its demand of mutual submission, is ECUSA’s refusal to love gays and lesbians with the love of Christ, a love that asks a life-laid-down. And it is no coincidence that ECUSA’s intransigence comes with denials by ECUSA’s leadership of the Son’s unique communion with the Father. Such a denial, increasingly systemic within ECUSA, cuts off the grace of communion at the root.

Radner writes:

“The Windsor Report, in this regard, has forcefully taken up on this vision, and strengthened and nuanced it considerably in a particularly Anglican way by rooting the episcopal character of communion in the commending, teaching, and guarding of Scripture’s authority within the Church.”

This is manifestly true in the rites for ordination to the episcopacy in use in our BCP: “A bishop in God’s holy Church is called to be one with the apostles in… interpreting the Gospel…” and thereby “to guard the faith, unity, and discipline of the Church.” A bishop is explicitly called to be “a faithful pastor and wholesome example for THE ENTIRE FLOCK OF CHRIST.” The rite then goes on to ask the candidate: “Will you SHARE WITH YOUR FELLOW BISHOPS in the government of the WHOLE CHURCH…?” This vision of episcopal communion is totally incompatible with the autonomy demanded by ECUSA’s prelates. Communion requires a submission to theonomy, and thus to radical heteronomy. As Radner puts it:

“It is not homophobia – fear of the ‘same’ (sex) -- that is driving this train away from communion; it is theophobia, the fear of God’s reality; and hence most truly, it is heterophobia, the fear of what is truly ‘other’, that is the culprit.”

Likewise, its no coincidence that the peril in which the Communion now finds itself are the result of ECUSA's insistence on autonomy for a particular class of folks within the Church. I am all too conscious of the sacrifice we are asking of gay and lesbian Christians. I have no doubt that the moral standards to which they are called seem impossibly austere. But the Lord assures us that the impossible holiness to which we are all called, when we embrace it even though it breaks our hearts, mysteriously becomes an easy yoke and a light burden (Mat. 11.30). I have had a few gay friends who embraced the Church’s moral teaching, and it was a powerful witness to me: they left the world and the world’s promises for the sake of Christ. They left the possibility of the consolations of having a companion with whom they could share their lives intimately – for the sake of Christ. And I know its not easy for them, but it is an unspeakably beautiful thing they have embraced, even though it means that they will appear to all eyes to suffer for it – loneliness, etc. It is a powerful witness and call to me, and I am very grateful to them for it, because of what it says about Christ’s call in MY life.

And this is what ECUSA has been called to at a corporate level: to forego its desires for the sake of the Body of Christ. Sadly, they seem to have refused that more difficult, but more beautiful, call. And although we are called to hope and pray for ECUSA’s metanoia, I'm not holding my breath. Nor should anyone else among the orthodox. We must move ahead in answering the call to communion, and hope and pray that ECUSA will join us.

This too is what the unspecified confessionalists in Radner’s essay are called to do: to lay aside their desires for a more theologically correct Communion for the sake of the integrity of the Body. Yes, truth is important, but getting it right about the ordination of women (for Anglo-Catholics), or justification by faith alone (for evangelicals), will mean very little to those who have not known Christ. On the other hand, a corporate life of mutual forbearance and submission in love will mean a great deal to those still in the world – as well as for our brothers and sisters in other communions who are concerned about the visible unity of the Body of Christ, and who also are looking for ways to inhabit the Lord's gift of communion. Radner puts it this way: the Anglican Communion can be a school…

“…for the koinonia that can only arise from a specific form of evangelism and ecclesial life that, through its outgoing reach, raises up the challenges of the Body of Christ as judgment and opportunity both.”

This is where all Anglicans are called to be “Prayer Book Catholics”, where we must admit the upbuilding reality of the English Reformation. Father Ephraim and Archbishop Rowan both put this in terms of the Benedictine Patrimony of English Christianity, from the days of Augustine, which was conserved uniquely through the English Reformation in the form of an ecclesial life of truly Common Prayer. Radner notes three elements of the Anglican ecclesial life:

“…the structuring of time away from simple production and entertainment, and towards human growth (in and through God); the character of obedience as mutual discernment and support within an ordered life in common; the commitment to full participation by all – the offering and receiving of support -- within the common life.”

What must happen now is a formal, PAN-ANGLICAN (Communion-wide) ordering of our ecclesial life of Common Prayer, a formal ordering that conserves Prayer Book Catholicism (in the best sense) in an intra-provincial way for the Communion as a whole. For the principles that we have inherited were designed for the Church of England, and have spread by historical accident and, as I noted, by divine providence far beyond the juridical borders of the Church of England.

This, I suggest, is a positive vision for the vocation of Anglicanism within the context of the whole Body of Christ, of which we have only ever claimed to be but a part. Apart from the particular agendas of the liberals, evangelicals, and catholics within the Communion, this ecclesial vision seems to be the only game in town, and indeed the only game at a catholic (= universal) level worth playing. I for one hope that some of us are still willing to take up the challenge, that the world may believe that the Father sent the Son.

Monday, May 07, 2007

the pope and liberation theology in the "newspaper of record"

[See also MM's pertinent take here. And WB, perhaps I have answered or echoed your trenchant anaylsis in the comments. Thanks both.]

This article was the lead headline in the print edition of the New York Times today. In light of Pope Benedict's upcoming trip to Brazil, it considers the state of liberation theology in Latin America today (still going fairly strong, apparently). The article discusses Benedict's crackdown on LT's heretical tendencies when he was still Cardinal Ratzinger and the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The problem with LT combines elements of Marxist theory and Christian belief to suggest that Jesus was a sort of Che Guevara of the first millennium. The NYT suggests that the pope's attitudes towards LT have "softened," but this is I think a their misreading. What the pope may have acknowledged is that, in so far as LT tends the needs of the poor and downtrodden, it does what correspond to Christ's commandments: to feed the hungry and clothe the naked. That does not, however, translate into Christianity finding its fullest expression in the Marxist state.

Benedict took up the issues of LT, Marxism, and modern thought in general in his Introduction to Christianity (see the updated preface and introduction), which I have at last taken off my bookshelf and been reading. His point is to recall the uniqueness of the Christian worldview and its central faith in Christ Jesus. When it is admixed with foreign ideologies, its salvific power is seriously undermined. The NYT, like all organs of modern thought, does not see it this way. It persists in believing that there are a plurality of equally legitimate beliefs in the world, and this extends to religion. We should not speak of theology, but theologies, not orthodoxy but orthodoxies. This of course is just an updated, less vigorous, and therefore less satisfying form of Marxism. This of course is nonsense from the inside of the Christian worldview. If the way is not narrow that leads to eternal life, it is not the Way.

Benedict laments in the Intro. that Christianity missed a key opportunity in the last century to engage the world by virgorously countering the corrosive philosophies of Marxist materialism. In 1968 and again in 1989, when the world groaned under the yoke of oppression, the Church failed to make its voice heard, to proclaim the Gospel in the face of social, economic, and cultural dissolution. The instruction given by the CDF in 1984 speaks of the "impatience" of those eager for social justice (a much maligned term in the church these days) who have turned to Marxism in order to pressure society into effecting the Kingdom of Heaven. The problem is those ground-of-being assumptions that Marxism makes about the world differ wildly from those of Christianity. Marxism rests its claims on science, assuming that "science" somehow embodies an objective view of the world and of man and that if human relations can be goverened objectively, then they can be harmonized. The failure of Marxism to achieve such a goal rightly points out the failure of a scientific-materialist world view, that matter cannot provide an objective view of matter. It is the recognition that science has been coming to itself going on a century now. But does this mean we should give up on objectivity? The pluralism latent in the NYT article suggests that we ought to, but as I love to make a point of, such an attitude itself appeals implicitly to an objective order: the objectivity of no-objectivity. But this is mere incoherence. Christianity, on the other hand, recognizes that true objectivity can only be found outside of this world, the world must be considered as an object, and that perspective can only come from the Divine.

It is increasinlgy clear to me, as it was to Benedict forty years ago (the Intro was first published in 1969), that Christianity today has a golden opportunity. From an intellectual standpoint, it's never been easier to justify our faith to the world. As global politics continually show, people desperately want coherence, order, objectivity, and hope, all of which can be found in the Church, and which can only be found in the unique expression of that faith which is the unadulterated belief entrusted to the apostles by Christ. Christianity has not survived or flourished because it rests on universal myths which are reluctantly giving way to the objectivity of science, but because it in itself offers for the first time an objective perspective on the world that resonates with our experience of the world.* When we forget that, we get caught on the same slippery slope that courses straight into the abyss of nihilism.

*This by the way is the perspective offered by René Girard in Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World, but there is not room to expound on that here.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

deep thoughts from episcopal bishops

From the Diocese of Newark's website.

In the good ol' days, bishops issued statements about, oh, theology 'n' junk. Maybe I can get my bishop to issue a pastoral letter ruling out an NCAA Football playoff system.

Bishops' Joint Statement Regarding Radio Host Don Imus

We, the Bishops of the Episcopal Church in the Dioceses of Newark and New Jersey, are enthusiastic fans and supporters of the Women’s Basketball Team of Rutgers University.

We are deeply offended by the racist, sexist and demeaning comments of radio host Don Imus about the Rutgers team. While he has been generous to many charitable causes over the years (including the Hackensack University Medical Center), Imus’ words last week were cruel, reprehensible and inexcusable. He has distracted the public from the team’s wonderful achievements and the sterling character of its members.

By their strong and mature response to Mr. Imus’ insults, these young women of Rutgers have won a greater victory than an NCAA title. Their calm dignity and quiet confidence have been blessings to behold. Their light will not be overshadowed by the bigotry and insensitivity of a powerful media icon and his corporate sponsors.

We believe that Mr. Imus should face the consequences of his actions. Pending the outcome of his meeting with the team, we look for real changes in his conduct and his program. His failure to learn from this experience should result in his removal from the air.

The Rt. Rev. Mark M. Beckwith, Episcopal Bishop of Newark
The Rt. Rev. George E. Councell, Episcopal Bishop of New Jersey
The Rt. Rev. Carol J. Gallagher, Episcopal Bishop Assistant of Newark

more from father ephraim radner on the house of bishops' statement

Father Ephraim is on a roll. His (long) most recent reply to the House of Bishops' Statement is well (well, WELL) worth taking the time to read in full. Father Ephraim's analysis is absolutely devastating. I would love (love, LOVE) to read a liberal / ECUSA response to Father Ephraim here. He takes the bishops to task, point by point, and shows their statement to be, perhaps more than anything, incoherent -- but also filled with anachronism, theological error, historical inaccuracy, balled-faced animus, arrogance, and deception. Do read the whole thing. It is, in Father WB's opinion, the best and clearest piece on the ECUSA / Communion situation yet produced by anyone. Seriously.

[A minor quibble: Father Ephraim says that the House of Bishops' Statement is in fact, contrary to what has generally been said, unclear. I think that its clarity is in that it shows that the bishops are unwilling to reverse course, and therefore that it clearly reveals (1) the urgent necessity that provision be made for orthodox Anglicans in America, and (2) that the bishops will not cooperate with the Communion on the presenting issues. What is UNCLEAR is the American bishops (ir)rationale.]

Here are some excerpts (though there is much [much, MUCH] more in the document... do read it all!):

...either the matter of “full inclusion” (including to the episcopacy and same-sex unions and blessings) is a matter “indifferent”, and hence is open to compromise for the sake of the Communion; or the matter is one of essential doctrine and discipline, and therefore the bishops should simply confess openly their inability to tolerate and accept alternative views (including within the Communion).... What makes no sense is to claim there is “no going back” because of the essential evangelical issues at stake, yet also to proclaim a willingness to engage in open debate and possible new learning and readjustments of current discipline.

Re: the House of Bishops' discovery of a "generous Prayer Book orthodoxy" --

If the Prayer Book tradition has an “orthodoxy”, it is neither generous nor ungenerous, but sui generis, and that is what should be examined, not some myth of a pluralist commonwealth of religious questers that seems to lie behind the bishops’ vision.

Re: the House of Bishops' criticism of the primates in terms of the latter's supposed over-willingness to "break relationship" in a cultural climate where broken relationships are a big problem --

There is, in fact, something morally unsettling about the Statement’s attempt to appropriate the categories of fidelity, even of marital fidelity, in their argument against the Primates. Much like their attempt to co-opt the language of anti-colonialism, it is contradicted by the facts on the ground, some of them embodied personally by bishops themselves.

Finally, there is this:

With whom and under whom do we now fulfill our vows made before God? It is no longer possible to receive equally the claim made by the House of Bishops to be faithful to the apostolic trust, along with the claim by the “Church throughout the world” that this trust demands another set of actions and commitments. What then shall we do?

Our bishops have left us in a grievous and parlous position. It is true, as our bishops have said, that those who wish to “divide” the church are few. The concerns expressed above come from clergy, like myself, who have long labored to maintain the unity of TEC, internally and with the Communion. We do not wish what the bishops themselves, few in number though they be, are pressing upon us.

Let us who care for Christ’s embrace of Anglican Christianity in Communion redouble our prayers and our efforts to see that the will of Dar es Salaam unfold in God’s good time, and not be thwarted by another unilateral dictation of how the Communion ought to mirror the incoherent image of TEC. God help us. Much is at stake here. It is time to do all we can to assure that the Instruments of Communion be able to do their work unhindered. If TEC’s bishops do not wish to be a part of this, that is their decision. Let them have the courage of their convictions; but let us not quietly accept their invented Anglican Christianity that never existed anywhere before.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

simul haereticus et anglicanus

If you'd like to mortify your intellect during these last days of Lent, go to Stand Firm and read the most unedifying and pointless post I've ever seen there: David Ould's anti-catholic polemic masquerading as a soliloquy on justification by faith.

For fun, count the synonyms for "poop" in the post and the ensuing comments. Its probably the most instructive engagement you could have with this little essay.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

father ephraim radner comments (some more) on the covenant

Read the whole thing here. Interesting deliberations around the catholicity of Anglicanism and the forthcoming, revised Covenant. Father Ephraim was responding to this comment from Father Michael Poon. Father Michael was in turn responding to this, Father Epharim's initial comments on the Covenant. What do you think?

Dr. Poon’s pointing to the central element of common prayer and the Prayer Book as the doxological center and context for Anglican hearing of Scripture in its “right interpretation” accurately exposes the complexity of this “old” and “new”. He calls for a return to the “ancient way”. And he is right: the Book of Common Prayer no longer functions in this anchoring and formative way for Anglicans as a Communion, much to our detriment. But I have already heard faithful (and centrally “orthodox”) Anglicans of a more catholic tradition criticize the Proposed Covenant precisely because it lifts up the 1662 Prayer Book as a “guiding” document for the Communion as a whole. Even leaving aside modern revisions and elaborations and perhaps perversions of the Prayer Book tradition within many evangelical and non-evangelical churches around the world, designating a liturgical form that is theologically oriented towards a fairly Protestant outlook (at least within an Anglican range) is seen by many “Anglo-Catholics” as highly problematic; and especially among newer churches who have never perhaps even been ordered within a history that attaches directly to the 1662 English edition. So there is a large question here: Is the “ancient way” closer to the pre-Reformation order of eucharistic life? Or is it to be found in a gathering of the Communion around an originating liturgical order whose focus in, e.g. 1662, is to be viewed as providentially integrating of our common life, even if not directly constructive of it in this or that local or national church? This is a central concern that, perhaps, the Covenant will need to address more substantively. I personally believe in the latter, and understand the draft Covenant to do the same; but I recognize that it will require some common discussion, prayer, and—frankly – effort and charity for this to be agreed upon. We will agree, I hope, as impelled by God; but that impulsion will be recognized only in a certain kind of shared openness.

Here is where the conciliar character of the Proposed Covenant is perhaps more prominent than Dr. Poon would like: the form of “Doxology-orthodoxy, right interpretation of the Word, and right and proper praise [that] underpin Christian ecclesial life” is not up for grabs, is not some human invention, but it must nonetheless be recognized and embraced by the human followers of Christ within the church. Conciliar life undergirds covenant not because councils and their members do not “err”; just the opposite. Conciliar life undergirds covenant because it is the formal agency of the erring Church’s act of constant re-conversion to the truth. It does not supersede the truth; it apprehends it within the historical life of the Church, which includes her many failures. Is there a place in this – and not simply a possible place but even a necessary place – for learning from the Global South? For all the failures and continuing failures, I believe this is already happening, precisely through these conciliar structures that have been emerging over the past few years. In this sense, the “status quo” is not so much being calcified as it is, in its uncovering of its authentic roots and purposes, being transformed.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

alexei khomiakov on anglicanism and private judgment: and some thoughts-out-loud: what is catholicity? or: quo enim recedam?

Many bishops and divines of your communion are and have been quite orthodox. But what of it? Their opinion is only an individual opinion, it is not the Faith of the Community. Ussher is almost a complete Calvinist; but yet he, no less than those bishops who give expression to Orthodox convictions, belongs to the Anglican Church. We may, and do, sympathise with the individuals; we cannot and dare not sympathise with a community which interpolates the Symbol and doubts her right to that interpolation, or which gives communion to those who declare the Bread and Wine of the High Sacrifice to be mere bread and wine, as well as to those who declare it to be the Body and Blood of Christ. This for an example — and I could find hundreds more — but I go further. Suppose an impossibility — suppose all the Anglicans be quite orthodox; suppose their Creed and Faith quite concordant with ours; the mode and process by which that creed is or has been attained is a Protestant one; a simple logical act of the understanding, by which the tradition and writings of the Fathers have been distilled to something very near Truth. If we admit this, all is lost, and Rationalism is the supreme judge of every question. Protestantism, most reverend sir, is the admission of an unknown [quantity] to be sought by reason; and that unknown [quantity] changes the whole equation to an unknown quantity, even though every other datum be as clear and as positive as possible. Do not, I pray, nourish the hope of finding Christian truth without stepping out of the former Protestant circle. It is an illogical hope; it is a remnant of that pride which thought itself able and wished to judge and decide by itself without the Spiritual Communion of heavenly grace and Christian love. Were you to find all the truth, you would have found nothing; for we alone can give you that without which all would be vain — the assurance of truth.

From Mind in the Heart, via Restorative Theology, via Pontifications.

Okay. I take his point, in a sense. However: were I (or anyone else) to convert to a non-Protestant (in the way Khomiakov seems to be using that term) church, would not "rationalism" still be sitting in judgment over catholic doctrine? Would not the "mode and process by which" this convert attained a catholic creed yet be "a protestant one; a simple logical act of the understanding, by which the tradition and writings of the Fathers have been distilled..."? Would not Rationalism, or better perhaps would not rationality, or the reason, yet be "the supreme judge of every question" in such a case? In other words, is it not in fact the case that converts convert because the doctrine of the ecclesial entity to which they are converting makes sense to them? Concomitantly, then, is not their reason the arbiter of (Scripture and) Holy Tradition? Khomiakov finds in Anglicanism "a remnant of that pride which thought itself able and wished to judge and decide by itself without the Spiritual Communion of heavenly grace and Christian love." But here, precisely, is the paradox: does not the act and possibility of conversion, which surely Khomiakov admits, entail the very possibility of that which he here denies: namely that an individual outside the Spiritual Communion of heavenly grace and Christian love (which is the Church) may "judge and decide" rightly, by an inscrutable process of intellection and affection, that catholic doctrine is true and therefore ought to be assented to? And once he has converted, does not the Roman Catholic or Orthodox Christian, by the quotidian renewal of his resolve to remain within the Roman or Orthodox communion, just continually ratify the sovereignty of his reason as the arbiter of truth?

This question is related to that paradox raised by Augustine in the narration of his own conversion, a paradox which my intuition tells me has its roots in Platonism and also has to do with prevenient grace: how can you call God to help you when his help is necessary for you even to call out? Augustine also puts it another way, in terms of exteriority and interiority: how can you seek something (or Someone) that is already and has always been inside of you? Quo enim recedam extra caelum et terram, ut inde in me veniat Deus meus, qui dixit, caelum et terram ego impleo? Loosely: Where might I withdraw beyond heaven and earth that my God might come into me, when my God has said "I fill heaven and earth"?

In the excerpt from Khomiakov we see an assumption regarding the differentiation of Protestantism from Catholicism. And I here mean both of these terms in the kind of way that they are often used, for example, at Pontifications: such that "Protestantism" includes Anglicanism (but not Orthodoxy), and "Catholicism" includes Orthodoxy (but not Anglicanism). The basis of differentiating between Protestantism and Catholicism is by an examination and judgment of what Khomiakov here calls the "faith of the Community." This assumption is also manifest in such dicta as one sometimes hears: e.g. that Anglicans believe they are catholic because they have valid orders, whereas (Roman) catholics believe they have valid orders because they are catholic. When cited by Roman Catholics, the former belief is implicitly false and the latter implicitly true. But with regard to a determination of catholicity it is obviously question begging. What is it for an individual or a community to be catholic?

And by the way, the Vincentian Canon is a non-starter. If to be catholic, as St. Vincent says, is "to hold that which has been believed everywhere, always, and by all," the question instantly arises: by all of whom? Roman Catholics? Christians? If it is Roman Catholics, then the Orthodox are ruled out as "catholic" insofar as they do not as a body believe, for example, the universal ordinary jurisdiction nor the situated infallibility of the bishop of Rome, nor the Immaculate Conception of our Lady. And if we mean " all Christians..." then probably Southern Baptists and Nestorians are ruled in.

In the end I think the status of an individual Christian as truly "catholic" is indeed in some sense a function of the submission of their volition, a bending the knee of the heart, to the Church. And yet the submission must come about as (at least in large part) recommended by the intellect. I've never heard of anyone going over to Rome (or the East) because it didn't make sense to do so. Thus I don't think the excerpt above from Khomiakov is helpful. Anglican Christians can just as much hold their beliefs because those beliefs come to them recommended by the One Church as can Roman Catholic or Orthodox Christians. And it is just as necessary for Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians rationally to differentiate the visible body to which they owe their submission -- to differentiate the One Church from other "ecclesial communities" -- as it is for Anglicans. Perhaps (perhaps) its true that more RC and Orthodox Christians go through this process per capita as a matter of positive fact than Anglicans. But even that is not obvious, and I tend to doubt it. We can see in this why disunity is a scandal. Were the unity of the Church visible, then catholically bending the knee of the heart would be considerably simpler, and that Christianity is a matter of obedience (as opposed to a lifestyle choice or a self-identity) would I imagine be more robustly manifest to the world, for the sake of whom the grace of unity is bestowed (John 17.21).

Why am I an Anglican? Because I am doing my best to obey the Lord's summons to his service. Because I want, more than anything, to be a slave for the sake of the Name. Lord knows it would in a very real sense be much easier for me to be Roman Catholic or Orthodox. Obeying the call I discerned to the Anglican priesthood has been, hands down, the most costly and painful thing I've ever done. I knew that it would be, and I was brought to my knees in tears in the face of this knowledge at Evensong before my ordination. When I asked the Lord why I should be an Anglican priest, I clearly discerned the answer: "because the essence of priesthood is sacrifice, and here you will be closest to the sacrifice of my Son." In my heart I accepted this, and it has been born out in my priestly vocation. I know that the Christian priesthood cannot be merely an exercise in private devotion, and I have faith that mine is not, though its hard for me to see the fruits of my ministry in the Body. But I believe that God actualizes his particular plans even though the actualization may be invisible or counterintuitive (1 Cor. 2.9).

Catholicity may be born out in the lives of individuals in complicated and inscrutible ways, but it is at least an act of obedience. And while I appreciate the good intentions of former Anglicans who perpetually exhort those whom they have left behind to climb into the Barque of Peter (or Andrew), they must also recognize that the Holy Spirit may answer Anglican prayers for conversion of heart in ways, or on timeframes, that they might not have expected. Michael Liccione, at Pontifications, has written:

One cannot cease to be Protestant by thinking like a Protestant. The way out of that box is to use all means available, chiefly prayer and ascesis but also study and meditation, to decide which principle of authority one shall submit to. Only the reformation of will made possible by such means will enable one to receive the gift of faith in its fullness.

I couldn't agree more. But what must be acknowledged is that many Anglicans have sought to submit, have sought to "believe one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church," and what's more have sought to "believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ," through prayer, ascesis, study and meditation, and who yet find themselves in the Anglican Communion -- not because they appreciate the free-thinking or free-willing it seems to afford, nor because it seems a pleasant and easy-going, non-papal brand of catholic Christianity, but rather out of obedience. What is difficult to bear is the implication (not necessarily Liccione's) that if catholic-minded Anglicans were really sincere or really obedient, they would go immediately to Rome. Once more I can assure you: I am doing the best I can, and I am still an Anglican.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

adrienne von speyr...

...was a Swiss physician, mystic, and friend of Hans Urs von Balthasar, who saw von Speyr's life of prayer and suffering to be in some sense a formal key to his theology. Read about von Speyr's life here.

Von Balthasar wrote that shortly after her conversion, "a veritable cataract of mystical graces poured over Adrienne in a seemingly chaotic storm that whirled her in all directions at once. Graces in prayer above all: she was transported beyond all vocal prayer or self-directed meditation upon in order to be set down somewhere after an indeterminate time with new understanding, new love and new resolutions." This included "an increasingly open and intimate association with Mary…" Driving home one night shortly after her conversion, she saw a great light in front of the car and she heard a voice say: Tu vivra au ciel et sur lat terre (You shall live in heaven and on earth). This was "the key to all that was to follow" in her life.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

more thoughts on unity to get the juices flowing (both mine and yours)

Every Sunday we say, in the words of the Nicene Creed, that we believe four things about the Church: that it is (1) One, (2) Holy, (3) Catholic, and (4) Apostolic. We see all of these elements in our Lord’s high priestly prayer in John 17. Look at the whole thing; its incredibly rich.

Let's look briefly at apostilicity and unity in John 17.

The Church is Apostolic

Jesus was talking to the eleven apostles (Judas having left), so there we have “apostolic.” We know he was praying specifically for the Apostles because he was speaking at the Last Supper, the night before his blessed passion, and St. Matthew in relating the same events tells us who precisely was present: “When it was evening, he sat at table with the twelve…” (see Mat. 26.20). John situates the prayer for unity in our Lord’s long discourse after “…he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table…” (Jn. 13.12), and there follows the four-chapter long discourse in which the prayer for unity is situated. Here too, by the way, we see the scriptural linking of the Church’s apostolicity with its sacramentality: this prayer comes at the institution of the Eucharist, at the Last Supper. Hence the multiplicity of related meanings of the word “communion” – as in “Anglican Communion” on the one hand, and “Holy Communion” on the other.

The Church is One

Our Lord prays not only for the Apostles, but for “those who believe in me through their word” (Jn. 17.20). He prays that those who believe in Jesus through the teaching of the Apostles might be one with the Apostles, and thereby one with himself, and thereby one with the Father. But this is all through the ministry of the WORD, through the Apostles’ teaching. Why? Because it is our Lord’s own teaching. And Christ’s teaching, his “word,” comes from the Father: “…I do nothing on my own authority but speak thus as the Father taught me” (Jn. 8.28). And the Lord says of the Apostles: “I have given them the words which thou gavest me, and they have received them…” (Jn. 17.8), and “they have kept thy word” (Jn. 17.6). The Lord says clearly that to hear those whom he sends is to hear him; and likewise to reject those whom he sends is to reject him: “He who hears you hears me, and he who rejects you rejects me, and he who rejects me rejects him who sent me” (Lk. 10.16). The unity of the Church is the unity of the Lord with the Apostles – “I in them and thou in me” (Jn. 17.23) – and it is therefore not to be taken for granted; it is a gift, and it is given not just to anyone, but expressly to “those who believe in me through their word” (Jn. 17.20).

The Church’s unity – its oneness – therefore comes through its share in and its reception of the words of God (the theou logoi or, loosely speaking, a unity of theology), which words the Father has given to the Son, and which the Son has given to the Apostles, and which they in turn have given to others. The Father’s gift of his Word to the Son is constitutive of the Father’s having eternally begotten the Son. That is, the Father’s gift of the Word to the Son is an eternal gift, and a gift so tightly given and so closely received, that it constitutes the very essence of God as Son. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (Jn. 1.1). This, again, can be seen in the Nicene Creed: the Word of God is “begotten of his Father before all worlds,” “of one substance with the Father,” and “very God of very God.”

Christ’s gift of the Word of God to the Apostles is shown to be the essence of the oneness of the Church as the Body of Christ. As I have mentioned, this discourse in John is presented in the context of the institution of the Eucharist, where the incarnate Word gives HIMSELF to the Apostles: “This is my body which is given for you” (Lk. 22.19). And therefore the Church rightly recognizes the yoking of preaching the Word and ministering the sacraments: “Give grace, O heavenly Father, to all bishops and other ministers, that they may… set forth thy true and lively Word, and rightly and duly administer thy holy Sacraments” (BCP p. 329). In full expressions of the Church, therefore, it is recognized that to proclaim the Word of God is to imitate Christ in his offering himself to the Father, because the Word of God is not just the abstract teaching of the Apostles, and not just the Bible, but rather as John 1.14 says “the Word became flesh.” If to preach the Gospel is to proclaim the Word of God (and it is), then it is not merely to proclaim a teaching (it is that; but its not just that), but it is even more fundamentally to offer the flesh of Jesus Christ. The whole reason for preaching, for proclaiming the Word, is because it is the enterprise of holding up the unique (unique → unity), which is to say the one flesh of Jesus Christ who is the Word of God: “‘and I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.’ He said this to show by what death he was to die” (Jn. 12.32). When Jesus speaks of his being "lifted up" he is speaking, in essence, of his proclamation of himself as the Word of God.

And this unity is the essence of the Eucharistic sacrifice. It is a perpetuation of the Apostolic power of offering the Word of God, which has become unique flesh. To offer the Word is therefore to offer a spotless and immaculate victim, the flesh of the man Jesus of Nazareth, who is of one substance with God the Father. Preaching the gospel and offering the Eucharistic sacrifice are forever and inextricably linked precisely because God’s perfect offering of his own life to humankind is forever and inextricably linked to the offering of perfect human nature to the Father in Christ’s “one oblation of himself, once offered” on the cross. In the crucified flesh of Jesus Christ there is at last perfect intercourse between God and man – a perfect, loving, simultaneous, and mutual outpouring of natures – because it is the ONE Christ who is crucified, and “although he be God and man, yet he is not two, but one Christ” (as the Athanasian Creed affirms). Christ’s sacrifice is the loving and simultaneous self-offering of God to man, and of man to God.

But it is realized immanently only by those whose faith in Christ is circumscribed by the teaching of the Apostles, viz. "those who believe in me through their word." Is this ECUSA?

More anon.