Sunday, May 27, 2012

So It Comes to This

Alerted by Robert Hendrickson, I have put myself through reading Eastern Oregon's justification for communing the unbaptized (which ca be reached from this page). And, well, it's hard to respond to it, starting right from its abject failure to address the traditional defense of reserving communion to the baptized. Let us start with the first few sentences invoking the spirit of the 1979 BCP, which are of a kind with all those American Catholics appealing to the spirit of Vatican II to defend their various liturgical outrages. The truth, as Hendrickson points out, is that the 1979 book does not in any way contemplate Eastern Oregon's proposal, but instead goes the opposite direction. The 1979 theory is the traditional view with the sacramentality turned all the way up: we are a people made sacramentally through baptism, and fed sacramentally through the Eucharist. The celebrant says, "the gifts of God for the People of God", and it is plain in the baptismal rite that the water of baptism is how we are incorporated into that people.

And after that, it is a foregone conclusion that they are not going to step up to explaining away what Paul says on the subject. Instead, all I can make out of their rather vague and theologically buzz-phrased statement is that, while it's not just "a simple statement about hospitality", what makes it not "simple" is that somehow the isolation of Eastern Oregon means we do not need to go to the bother of baptizing people.

And about that, I may make two observations. A hundred or so years ago, the situation was hardly better. My wife is from Great Falls, and if Oregon presents transport and population density problems, Montana is in every way worse. And I have seen the tiny font that Bishop Tuttle used as he organized the church in the state and others in the west. It is a tiny cup, barely suitable for the immersion of baby mice, but I dare say multitudes were baptized from it. Surely it is no harder for a priest to get around the diocese today.

But more to the point, baptism is not in any way limited by the supply of priests! If it be so important to get visitors up to the table, then perhaps the altar guild could provide the ushers with a cup of water and cards with the baptismal formula on them, so that the unwashed (as it were) could come to the table, made new in Christ and ready to feast. But in any case a parish or mission need not wait for the priest to make his circuit for baptisms that cannot wait.

At least, I think this addresses their argument. The whole thing is only two pages long, and at that is padded with the filler of modern theological jargon, so that they say they are "intentional" and "empowering" and so forth, when it is not clear that they could articulate their intention or where power is to be had, much less what constitutes hospitality. Tony Clavier sets forth a succinct statement on baptism, and I can understand it and defend it, and I read Eastern Oregon's statement, and it is incoherent. The message I get from it is that if one sprinkles in the right theological magic words, then one's practices are justified, even if those words in what is not so much a thread of argument as a ball of word fluff.

So this is what passes for the theology that would overturn one of the Church's oldest rules. I think the resolution will be defeated, because while we are perhaps woefully ill-educated, there are probably enough priests left who remember at least this small part of their seminary educations. But the vote will be far closer than it ought be, because, it appears, this sorry excuse for a rationale has pwoer over far too many in this church.


Anonymous said...

Why the buddying up to Clavier, a disgraced vagante bishop?

Jon in the Nati said...

I would imagine the author cites Clavier because he is correct on this issue. He may or may not be a "disgraced vagante bishop", but if he is that doesn't make him wrong.

On an unrelated note, I must admit that I am puzzled by this suggestion that Eastern Oregon is so rural that there simply are not enough priests to baptise people. Firstly, as you point out C, one needn't be a priest to baptise someone. Secondly, are there really a lot of instances in which persons earnestly desired baptism but were significantly delayed because there were no clergy anywhere within driving distance? Does this actually happen?

I've never been to Eastern Oregon, but the majority of my life as an Episcopalian was spent in the Dioceses of Fond du Lac (WI) and Southern Ohio, both of which are at least as rural as E0 and in which it is common (outside of cities) for clergy to have care of two or even three parishes. The same, incidentally, is true of the relevant Catholic dioceses in the area, and probably true also of have the dioceses in TEC. Why are these churches not urging the same changes EO is?

I really don't understand all of this, in large part because I simply don't believe that the problem EO is apparently seeking to solve actually exists on any significant level in real life.

C, thanks for your continued writing on the subject. I look at this as an outside observer and, like you, fear not that the resolution will pass but that it will be close enough to give this sort of thing traction in the future. This needs to be put to bed now.

C. Wingate said...

Clavier's history is complicated, especially by the other vagante/schismatic Anglicans who among other things set up an account on Wikipedia in an attempt to control his bio there. Anonymous comments on this are, I would opine, more disgraceful than failing to fight ultimately unsupported allegations of abuse.