Thursday, December 29, 2005

Infinity Over Infinity

Out at Grace Cathedral they're stretching our cosmic boundaries again:
[Anglican orthodoxy]understands that God’s infinity and essential unknowability requires that revelation in the Bible and in Creation must contain an infinite multiplicity of meanings.
There are times when it is handy to be a mathematician, such as when the statistics-spinning begins, or when people start talking about inifinities as though there was something profound about them.

Infinity is something that it is quite easy to introduce and quite difficult to introduce in a way that is meaningful. Here's an example: Suppose you asked someone to draw a smiley-face at least an inch high and wide in a two-inch-square box. How many different such faces could be drawn? Well, to the geometer, an infinite number, and in practice the number of real variations is close enough to infinity for most purposes. This infinity has no real impact.

The same issue arises with regards to divine revelation. I'm not sure I even agree with the implication being stated, but I would note that "infinite multiplicity of meanings" doesn't imply that the meanings vary by much. It seems to me that the Orthodox Anglican line always was that there was an essential center, a core meaning about which variation could be tolerated. Tis is the truth out of which arose the Quadrilaterals. Dean Jones seems (by ellipsis) to imply that the incarnation-- that is, Jesus and what the Gospels tell of him-- is something of a blank slate upon which nearly any image can be graven.

This particularly comes out in an example he gives:
The Russian icon, the Rublev Trinity, expresses brilliantly what we are about - three figures sitting at a table on which sits a chalice.
The thing is that this icon wasn't written as just three figures to which one can impute a meaning of one's choice. They were written that the viewer might, knowing the figures to be Abraham's visitors, see in them a revelation of the triune persons. Meanings of the icon which exclude this simply aren't true. What Spong says these days is irreconcilable with any true meaning taken from the icon, just to give an extreme example. Even Bp. Tennis's notorious "core doctrine" finding in the Righter trial acknowledges this principle; the problem with the court's decision was in it's presumption of identifying where exactly that core lay.

This seems to me to lie at the heart of a lot of the battle against Anglicanism. The extreme modernists in practice deny that there is a core, by erasing any particulars from it. The Ortho-Catholic anti-Anglican line also pretends that there is no core-- an unhistorical misrepresentation of the current crisis as an everpresent fault.

Over in RatherNotBlog the following observation is made:
In other words, the appeal to apophaticism is an excuse for lazy thinking, a pseudo-clever way of getting around making hard choices.
This is a little bit of an overstatement-- but only a little.

Monday, December 26, 2005

"Anglican Distraction Syndrome" Considered

Over in the blog of the parish of St. Margaret's Emmaus (PA) we have reference to an extract of a letter from Bp. Paul Marshall concerning "Anglican Distraction Syndrome":
History teaches that Episcopalians would rather do anything than spread the Kingdom. We tend to invest our energy in debates about liturgy, women's ordination, language, where national headquarters should be, and so on, in a way that is disproportionate to their significance. These are all important issuses, but my constant sorrow--and I have been saying this for decades--is that we historically let ourselves get so concerned with these and other issues that our primary mission is obscured.
The thing is that all of these "distractions" occur in the course of arguing about how we should go about spreading the kingdom. They get argued about because people say or have said that we have to change the liturgy, we have to ordain women, we have to have acknowledged homosexuals in positions of power, we have to change the language used to talk about God, have spend less money on our national church institutions, and so forth. If discussion is the obvious problem, then "leave well enough alone" is the obvious solution. Leave the text of the BCP unaltered; leave +VGR as a singularity; forget about rites for homosexual marriages; leave headquarters at 815; and so forth.

There is, of course, not a snowball's chance in hell that this is going to happen. And if Bp. Marshall really wanted to cast a vote in this direction, he would have witheld consent on +VGR.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

What is my model of church?

You scored as Sacrament model. Your model of the church is Sacrament. The church is the effective sign of the revelation that is the person of Jesus Christ. Christians are transformed by Christ and then become a beacon of Christ wherever they go. This model has a remarkable capacity for integrating other models of the church.

Sacrament model


Herald Model


Mystical Communion Model


Institutional Model


Servant Model


What is your model of the church? [Dulles]
created with

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

You Call That a FUTURE?

As the first rays of 2006 appear over the horizon, thoughts in ECUSA turn towards General Convention, and the likelyhood that the church will be divided at that point. And thus we have at Kenesis some speculation on what the "new church" will look like.

Mostly I think the vision related there is self-affirming nonsense:

"The new Episcopal Church will no longer be comfortable with position, wealth, self-satisfied liberality, and our role as a "mainline" denomination." It's really hard for me to imagine how the new, "blue" ECUSA could be anything but all of these things. ECUSA is already tightly coupled to upper-middles, and shucking the "red" portion is not going to change that. The image of ECUSA as "the Republican Party at prayer" is decades out of date.

"It will be leaner and less encumbered by the bloated budgets that come from maintaining old buildings and expensive real estate." Please. The big old expensive Gothic piles are in old established liberal dioceses. Is ECUSA really going to give away St. John the Divine and the National Cathedral? (If the answer is "yes", I'll be glad to accept the latter.)

"The new Episcopal Church will be mission-driven; we will cease to be satisfied with maintenance and demand growth." If the statistics from 815 are to be believed, the new "blue" ECUSA will do worse than before in the growth department. "Blues" don't spawn; "reds" do. Conversions? Historically ECUSA has been a church of converts, but the problem is that the kind of people who join ECUSA don't reproduce enough. Latino cleaning ladies? Mostly they'll stay Roman Catholic.

"The new Episcopal Church will be orthodox, catholic, and reformed." That I doubt. Never mind that "orthodox" and "catholic" are, to a great extent, owned by others. The whole process of getting to where we are involved, on the one hand, "we dare you to stop us" outrages, and on the other, a lack of will and structure to rein anyone in. Without the traditionalists there will be even less of a check on theological innovation, and therefore I expect the "blue" ECUSA to become determinedly unorthodox-- that is to say, far outside the consensus of the churches as a whole.

"The new Episcopal Church will practice radical hospitality in an atmosphere of community." I would say "whatever that means" were that history thus far has elucidated "radical hospitality" to mean "being as formless as the UCC and the unitarians". That pretty much puts the kibosh on orthodoxy, but then I wrote that off above; in any case such extremes of hospitality won't be very welcoming to the genuinely orthodox.

Here's what I think will happen: the liberals will push homosexual marriages through GC, and the divorce proceedings will begin. There will be a terrible temptation for each side to spite the other by taking away their buildings and institutions, reinforced by the opposed, towering senses of moral superiority exhibited at the extremes. Even in the least acrimonious case there will be plenty of conflict over property and plenty of people on either side willing to fight to take away churches and the like from the other side, even when there's really no point in having it for themselves. Except in a few dioceses in certain states, the prestige properties will end up with the new, "blue" ECUSA.

The new ECUSA will end up with a lot of people who are moderate or even somewhat conservative, partly out of inertia and partly out of a complex of other reasons. The situation for these people will be bleak. I expect the 1979 BCP to be suppressed within a decade, and it wouldn't surprise me to see new liturgies introduced that are ostentatiously heretical, or at least spinelessly latitudinarian. Numbers will continue to drop, not so much because of flight (thought there will be a lot of that at first) but because ECUSA will continue to have children well below the replacement rate. Mission attempts will fail to cross the ideological class barriers that are increasingly entrenched. Spongian heretical bishops will continue to appear and will continue to escape any kind of discipline. Condescension to the troglodytes will continue unabated. Association with "blue" politics will continue, with the church taking increasingly leftist positions.

Mind you, I make no claims about how good the other side will be. The opportunities for angry disdain and fractiousness are obvious. But they have much or to establish in terms of institutions and attitudes, so I don't feel much confidence in predicting which way they will go.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Wisdom From Durham

In the course of his pastoral letter on "civil partnerships" N. T. Wright hammers home exactly what is wrong with the way innovation has progressed in ECUSA of late:
If people want to change the rules about this or anything else, there are ways of doing so. We have voted as a Communion and a Church to have women priests, to admit children to Communion before Confirmation, and so on. Change can and does happen. But it can’t happen by people creating ‘facts on the ground’, deliberately flouting the church’s well-known teaching, and then requiring that the teaching be adjusted to fit. As Archbishop Rowan has stressed, we are being called to grow up to a new maturity as a Church, and part of that is that we learn how to discuss contentious issues and live within a common discipline as we do so.
Mind you, his discussion of the essential duplicity of the Act is worth your time too.

(a tip to titusonenine for the link)

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Emergent Christology

Over in Pontifications there is a long series of comments about an exchange in Open Source Theology concerning Christology. I find the exchange interesting in part because it manages to stay away from the "of course Catholic theology solves everything" through most of the middle portion of the discussion.

It's interesting that in the original discussion "Chalcedon" doesn't appear until the middle of the exchange, and it is brought up by a catholic (small-c). Much of the rest of the exchange is devoted to the original respondent's sense of unease with the formula. In mainline catholic theology-- including, I would imagine most Anglican discussions-- "Chalcedon" would appear as soon as possible, because it's the most important historical consideration of the issue, and people in those intellectual traditions emphasize historical perspective. And I would agree to this emphasis, if only because knowing the history of an argument is a great help to avoiding wasting time in recapitulating it unknowingly.

On the other hand in the original discussion there is little or no sense of historical perspective; and when it is introduced there is a surprising resistance to really accepting it. We disappear into what obscurity there may be in ante-Nicene theology, the inevitable refuge of "start from scratch" Protestant theology. It's ironic that the mainstream of evangelical theology is increasingly abandoning this and looking back to the councils and the church fathers. Whatever the emergent movement is needs to get past this calculated naivete; intellectually there is simply no excuse for not being aware of the major historical approaches to these problems.

Meanwhile, Al Kimel observes:
My first impression is that many em’s are reacting against what they perceive to be the personally destructive dogmatism of the evangelical/fundamentalist churches in which they were raised. My second impression is that they are embracing the kind of experientialist, anti-dogmatic theology that has been characteristic of liberal-Protestant theology for the past hundred and fifty years. Flush in the excitement of being on the evangelical cutting-edge, they do not realize how very old-hat they are.
Maybe Al and I have been reading different liberals, but I think his statement here seriously mischaracterizes what has gone wrong with mainline theology. Mainline theologians are not going to get around to Chalcedon because someone else brings it up; they are going to have at it, for good or ill, from the start. They come out of a catholic theology in which they have all been educated in all this stuff, and they are brim full of opinions about it. Those in OST, by contrast, hardly seem to have heard of Chalcedon.

And unfortunately Chalcedon is a very clear formulation of the the principles it expresses-- at least, not to the average modern person. I had the benefit of being walked through it in Robert Farrar Capon's Hunting the Divine Fox before I really had to deal with it in discussion, but without guidance the formula is rather opaque. And it has the dubious distinction of being the focus of Christendom's oldest surviving theological division. I am convinced that what Chalcedon teaches is "true", but in the exchanges in the two lines of discussion, I'm not seeing a great teaching moment. What's tending to happen instead is that the Catholic end of the discussion has mostly retreated from trying to explain the formula and has gone back to the usual intellectual sin of trying to argue from authority to people who do not (yet) accept the authority.

And OST is clearly a place where real teaching is appropriate and even possible. It saddens me to see that its potential in this wise isn't being exploited.

Friday, December 09, 2005

I Haven't Picked on the Liberals Lately

I'm getting tired of "Catholic theological solipsism", so it's probably just as well that over on Fr. Jake the Insignificant Minority Right-Wing Conspiracy Theory has popped up again. I have these conflicting impulses of laughter and annoyance. "Covert operatives"? The reasserters organize and plan, and it's evil; the liberals organize and plan, and it's just prudent.

I't s about time the liberals gave up on the claim that they are in any way persecuted. I'm not sure when the last time that happened, but I doubt it has happened within my lifetime.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

A Proper Concern for Doctrine

Everything over in Pontifications these days seems to come down to remarks like these:

Something [in Lewis's writings] seems to be missing. What this is, I think, is a lack of a proper concern for doctrine. He notes often, very rightly, that as a layman with little theological training it is not his concern in his books to decide sticky points but to stick to the basics of Christianity. But this is only possible to a certain extent. What was that comment of his on the Eucharist? “Jesus said, Take, eat; not, Take, understand.” This is true but it bothers me that Lewis seems unwilling to pick a side.

While there’s no forgetting Lewis’s huge positive impact on me, as a Catholic I have had to outgrow his doctrinal “squishiness”. As well meaning and ecumenical as it is, the idea of “mere Christianity” is about as silly as the idea of a “mere Jesus” (and, yes, by that I mean I am reminded of Jefferson’s ‘improved’ New Testament).

The last reference is a cheap shot, and it serves as an emblem of the inevitable doctrine that any relaxation of dogmatism leads straight to utter latitudiarian indifference. It's rubbish, of course; Lewis himself stands as an object counterexample.

Surely it is reasonable to deduce that the abundance of wrong answers-- that is, heresies-- is driven in large part by the deep desire to have answers. Where the material isn't sufficient to support this urge, error is inevitable, because one's critical faculties are dulled by the desire to come up with something. I'ts not the only source of error, of course; rationalizing one's behavior is obviously important too.

But Lewis's "Mere Christianity" is plainly what you get when you impose a consensus on Christendom as a whole. And when it is neglected in favor of controversies over everything else-- the inevitable outcome of "proper concern for doctrine"-- it becomes impossible to resist the consequence that these other issues are what is important.

The original article that set this all off skips over the bigger reason why Tolkien is more palatable to the masses than Lewis: unless you read The Silmarillion, which can be a rather daunting task, the essential Miltonian character of Tolkien's created world isn't evident. Indeed, it is masked to the point where I believe that Christians see it as Christian only because they know of Tolkien's Catholicism. Others do not.

I am particularly struck by the focus on Lewis's lack of doctrine on the Eucharist. But really it cannot be necessary for someone to hold an opinion on the mechanics of the Godly presence in communion, and the notion that the only unacceptable position is to hold the wrong view is lame. All of this of course is argued out over the background of rejecting Lewis's church for its deviations.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

The Problem Concept of "Validity"

The discussion of communion with the unbaptized that started on Titusonenine has not at all suprisingly moved to Pontifications (since, after all, it is yet another opportunity to tar Anglicans in general with the broad brush of the crazy ones). I'll have a few comments to make on the issue itself later, but what I find more worthy of immediate comment is the spat that has broken out about (you could have predicted this too) validity of orders.

On one side we have George Russell citing Lateran IV:
Nobody can effect this sacrament except a priest who has been properly ordained according to the church’s keys, which Jesus Christ himself gave to the apostles and their successors. [....] To me this is fairly clear. Whatever becomes of bread consecrated by Anglican priests (who do not simultaneously happen to be Catholic priests), it is not the Body and Blood of the Lord, and Anglican Eucharists are not a sacrament.

On the other side, Al Kimel:
George, the passages from Lateran IV and the CCC simply identifies one of the necessary conditions for a valid Eucharist. In the absence of the fulfillment of this condition, the Catholic Church cannot and does not affirm that a sacrament occurs. I agree. So does Fathers Coventry and Hughes. But this is not identical to denying the possibility that God may, in his gracious freedom, answer the prayers of, say, a Lutheran congregation and bless them with the gift of Christ’s Body and Blood. To deny this possibility is to deny God’s freedom. [....] I am responding here strongly because it is very important not to misrepresent Catholic teaching on this point. Many readers of Pontifications are seriously examining the claims and teachings of Catholicism. Misrepresentations of authoritative Catholic teaching undermine the evangelistic purpose of this site.

We're still having a problem here with this word "valid". Under Al's program, one can replace "X is not valid" with "the Church does not acknowledge X." That tempts me to shrug and reply, "too bad for the Roman church," but there are two other points here.

First, there is Al's comment about the importance of conveying the correct Roman teaching. Now, looking at the Lat. IV statement, I don't read it as being hedged in the way that Al interprets it. Indeed, the paragraph in which the quoted statement appears begins with a strong, Cyprianic statement denying salvation outside the church. I believe the council's claims to be wrong for exactly the reasons that Al gives, but that isn't the point. I believe that Russell correctly relates what the council taught, and I do not accept the implication from Al that the council intended to teach otherwise.

The impression I get instead is that eventually the church had to back down from the rigorous Cyprianic insistence of sole proprietorship. But the consequence of this is having to abandon the use of the word "invalid", at least in any sense stronger than "we don't acknowledge...". In any case the temptation to take the stricter interpretations of old church statements is clearly very strong, to the point where an outsider has to wonder who to trust.

Friday, December 02, 2005

More on "Infallibility and No Taste"

So there I was, a High Church Anglican in the middle of a bunch of first and second generation Slavs, in Johnstown for the folk festival. We're all in the Slavic Male Chorus of Washington DC and we've been slated to sing all of our performances at the tent in front of the Croatian church-- every time we sing another Serbian song, it seems as though the audience gets smaller.

The folk festival that year sat among one of the densest cluster of churches I've ever seen. Almost all of them are Catholic; and all the ones I saw were "ethnic" parishes. At one end is the Irish parish, and then a few blocks along the Italian parish. On another street there's the Croatian church, and in the next block a closed Hungarian parish. The next street over has a Polish parish and a few blocks from that is the Greek parish. Most of these are pretty good sized, and the exuberance of the decoration starts at overwhelming and escalates to jaw-dropping. It's a window into a Catholicism that has largely passed away where I live.

The most astonishing single object is the baldicchino in the Greek church. It's this huge polychromed terracotta thing with half-"lifesize" angels at each corner. Back in the early twenties, when it was ordered from Italy, it cost $250,000. Can you imagine that? It would be beyond price to make it now. And they're ALL like that. For an Anglican it's a relief to step into the little Lutheran church that sits in the center of the neighborhood and see nothing but plaster, dark wood, and brass. (I wondered why they were hawking pierogies, but then I found out that it's a Slovak Lutheran church.) I wish I could show you pictures, but none of these parishes appears to have a website.

The exception to this is the Croatian church I've mentioned several times. It's pretty small, in comparison with the others, but the exterior gives no clue that there's something wrong with the interior. But inside, anyone can see that something drastic has been done. The space is a square box with an apse, but there's nothing much in the apse. Instead, the altar has been moved to the "South" wall, on a low platform, with the seats arranged in circular rows. All hint of ornament has been supressed. And then, on the "West" wall, there's a reproduction of the Western Wall: huge grey-painted chunks of styrofoam. You may press slips of paper between the blocks, just as in Jerusalem.

Possibly the people didn't think much of this, because there was a pamphlet explaining how this arrangement is superior to what they had earlier. I of course had never seen to original furnishings, and I'm pretty sure that I wouldn't have chosen them. But I felt my spirit sink when I entered it, as it is now, and I had to shake my head at what had been done in the Name of the Lord.