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.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Amazingly Unflattering Ecclesiology

RIchard Kew has a nice post about patience-- one which I wish all those parishes that are bolting ECUSA right now would read. But what's really great about the post is the comments, with jewels like these:

My deeply theological reason for staying is: What the heck? The corollary is: Where else would I go?


When the canon asked the priest why he was coming back, the man replied, "Well, my church might be a whore, but at least she's my church!"

A couple more comments like that and I'll have to style myself "Hosea".

Monday, November 28, 2005

All That Infalliblity and No Taste

Over on Pontifications Fr. Jay Scott Newman weighs in with his theories on how to conduct RC worship. And most of his ideas I endorse.

That's not surprising, because the recommendations are what any middle-to-high Anglican suspicious of versus populi liturgy would say, minus some of what he says about the choir and the singing.

So once again, Rome must come to Canterbury for liturgical instruction. Or more to the point, the National Shrine must come to Mt. St. Albans-- if RC liturgy outside the USA be not as good as it could be, observers seem to agree that it is rarely so bad as RC liturgy in the USA. And if looking at Orthodox liturgy is at all instructive, a lot of the badness in liturgy is part of the tradition.

What with all the talk about doctrine it remains to the Anglicans to have a clue of how to put it into practice in church; if we don't have a clue as to what to worship (which is a lame canard) it's ironic that we have to be the authority on how to worship.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Silly Online Quiz Time

You scored as Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan. You are an evangelical in the Wesleyan tradition. You believe that God's grace enables you to choose to believe in him, even though you yourself are totally depraved. The gift of the Holy Spirit gives you assurance of your salvation, and he also enables you to live the life of obedience to which God has called us. You are influenced heavly by John Wesley and the Methodists.

Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan


Neo orthodox


Roman Catholic




Classical Liberal




Reformed Evangelical




Modern Liberal


What's your theological worldview?
created with

Christian Traditions Selector

Percent Rank Item
(100%) 1: Anglican/Episcopal/Church of England
(92%) 2: Roman Catholic
(91%) 3: Eastern Orthodox
(71%) 4: Pentecostal/Charismatic/Assemblies of God
(69%) 5: Lutheran
(53%) 6: Church of Christ/Campbellite
(51%) 7: Methodist/Wesleyan/Nazarene
(50%) 8: Anabaptist (Mennonite/Quaker etc.)
(46%) 9: Baptist (non-Calvinistic)/Plymouth Brethren/Fundamentalist
(39%) 10: Presbyterian/Reformed
(32%) 11: Seventh-Day Adventist
(30%) 12: Baptist (Reformed/Particular/Calvinistic)
(30%) 13: Congregational/United Church of Christ

I suspect that the reason I come up Wesleyan on the first one is that there isn't an "Anglican" selection. And what's that "Pentecostal" entry doing in fourth place on the second list??

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

A Crucial Test

It's obvious, in the current crisis, that Anglicans are going to have to bite the bullet and pin down what must be believed more than is done now. I suspect that, breft of any conservative restraint, the liberals are eventually going to have trouble maintaining any kind of Christian message, and at worse may find themselves put in the position of the Church of Camp-- at this late date, I feel no qualms at all about calling clown masses "campy".

The Ortho-Romish claim is that the only way to make this "pinning down" work is to indulge in dogmatization. and for a few-- a very few-- issues this is probably OK, as long as the consensus on these is truly universal. Mostly this is only going to keep the Spongs in check, but one has to start somewhere. It's the continuing controversies that pose the greatest risks.

In the present controversy there is no doubt in my mind that the "global south" is going to present to the communion a demand to effectively dogmatize various teachings on marriage and sexuality. This is perhaps putting the cart before the horse, but there's nothing to be done for it. And further still? Well, that's the question, isn't it? If the anglicans can limit dogmatism and continue, what does that mean?

It's possible that everyone will take this as the chance to "reshape" theology to their own taste, and therefore leave us with distinct A-C, Evangelical, Central, and Liberal Anglican communions/churches; and the divisions need not stop there. Emphasis of conformity of doctrine will tend to take us this way, and it will surely be the end of a distinct Anglicanism. The other extreme possibility is that conformity will be limited to the few current hot button issues, and that theological latitude will remain the rule beyond this. In this case, Aglicanism will survive.

At the moment it seems to me that things are extremely unsettled. Both sides in ECUSA seem to be (a) going out of their way to make the situation as volatile as possible, and (b) doing everything they can to make everyone mistrustful who isn't a party in one of the extremes.

Is Dogma Daring?

Cantuar's statements at the Global South conference are stirring up a lot of unhappy responses. Well, I suppose liberal dismay that the archbishop won't run things as a fellow traveller shouldn't be surprising, though it has seemed to me from the beginning that their expectations have been methodically dashed by Rowan Williams, both before and after his elevation, at every possible opportunity.

The conservative response is perhaps more puzzling. Cantuar has all but said that he will let the communion as a whole expel ECUSA. In return the Africans and a growing list of American parishes are bubbling over with impatience. The latter I simply do not understand. ECUSA as a whole can do nothing before the next GC-- only six months away-- and it seems to me that ordinations and parishes bolting, for now, are not positive actions.

But then we have Al Kimel's response.

I suggested then that the real problem is Williams’s approach to episcopal leadership. Instead of acting like a bishop, he has been acting like a manager, trying to keep everyone on board through endless dialogue. The problem, of course, is that both progressives and traditionalists have had their fill of dialogue. They want a decision. And it is this decision that ++Rowan is unwilling or incapable of providing.

The problem is that, in a communion which eschews papal patriarchalism almost as a matter of dogma, Cantuar isn't everyone's bishop! And if anyone looks at the process that has been followed, it certainly doesn't look much like "endless dialogue". Indeed, it appears to me that the issue is being forced to a resolution: a commission wrote a document to propose a starting point, and the requests of that document are being almost universally rejected. Perhaps Al looks forward to an emotionalized and unmanaged breakup as a consequence of this, but I don't. And I think that one thing that Rowan Williams is doing right here is acting as the agent of the communion as a whole, rather than merely the exponent of his own views. A bishop who does no more than the latter is just a tyrant, even if his own views happen to be those of centuries of church tradition. So I don't have any problem with management, because it's bloody obvious that all sides of this need to be managed a great deal.

But then Al continues:

Jenson raises a critical point. The dogma of the Church develops because the Church dogmatizes. Theological disagreement and debate is no doubt necessary to the Church’s apprehension of the revelation entrusted to her; but on important matters, the Church has often found it necessary to bring debate to definitive closure, invoking the full weight of her authority. We may raise questions about the timing and wisdom of specific dogmatic decisions, but these decisions belong to the history of the Church and are necessary to the mission of the gospel. We trust these decisions because we believe that the Holy Spirit is guiding the Church and leading her into all truth.

This begs the point in the most blatant possible way. It essentially elevates agreement over truth-- absolutely.

Contrast this with the way things work in the natural science. There is no real closure there, because any issue can in theory be reopened. In practice, most reopened issues are closed right back up again, but there should never be pressure to "close" an issue about which major disputes remain. In practice it happens, because scientists are sinful humans. But in the end, the lack of a final authority-- other than, of course, reality itself-- isn't a problem.

In comparison, the situation in theology looks quite poor. There really isn't closure, because the "resolution" is simply to create enough divisions so that everyone can have their own church with its own-- closed-- theology. Major disputes have persisted for not just centuries, but a millenium and a half; ecclesiastical divisions exist so that the differences don't have to be resolved. The closure is imaginary; it's just a kind of ideological tyranny. Secular intellectuals ridicule this with cause.

In this, Anglicans were weird, preferring union over closure. Clearly this is going to change, and I think that, for practical reasons, division is unavoidable. When theological differences are manifested directly in the rites of the church, it is nearly impossible to forestall division. But this particular failure of unity doesn't imply that dogmatic conformity is therefore good. If there's one thing that Roman theology doesn't take seriously, it's that its processes are carried out by sinners. Failures are therefore to be expected, and the burden of proof must be on those who claim that they are working. Dogma can obviously be put to the very sinful purpose of shutting up one's opponents because one cannot refute them. Surely the standard of consensus for dogma must be very, very high.

And closure need not be an all-or-nothing enterprise. It's one thing to limit constant, high effort reassessment of basic principles. I think by this time we do not have to put the Nicene Creed to the test at every church convention, but I do think the church must have a better counterargument to new challenges to the creed than "It's settled and not up for discussion." If the truth needs that defense, then it isn't truth.

There's nothing daring about dogma.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Growing Up and Out

From GetReligion we have an unconversion story in the form of an article in the NYT by Mark Lilla. (I'm sorry, but the article has now passed into the NYT archives.) It's interesting reading, and in some ways insightful, but in two aspects it seems very naive.

Perhaps the premier myth of the modern times is about growing up, and what it says is that growing up is about putting away childish things and accepting limits. Well, and about accepting sexual appetites, but thankfully we don't have to consider that aspect this time. Childhood is about comfort and illusion; adulthood is about living with the scars of disillusionment. Therefore growing up means growing out of religion, that source of comforting illusions (or so the myth says).

What first strikes me about this is how very much it is not about growth, but about loss. And conversion stories are, by contrast, all about growth and gain. We need only look toward Surprised by Joy or The Seven Storey Mountain to see modern examples of this. And I pick these two because in both cases the real life story didn't end there, and both Lewis and Merton wrote extensively beyond these works. In Merton's case his thought and faith continued to develop, both in ways that exceeded (in one sense) the pure piety of his first book. Lewis went beyond his easier, more palatable works into an inexplicable marriage out of which arose the astonishing power of Til We Have Faces and the astonishing honesty of A Grief Observed.

But neither of these latter works is about adulthood, per se. One must remember that the narrator of Til We Have Faces looks back on a long life now converging on its end. Both books are, in a way, about leaving adulthood, for death.

I did not know adulthood myself as loss, but as gain. My schooling was very difficult, and its story is one that I think might gratify my old teachers. For came upon the end of high school as an experience of coming into my powers, and came to college not a man (for technically I was underage anyway) but the growing shoot of a man. What I put away of childhood was very different from what the myth would have me put away. Pain was given to me and innocence taken away from first grade; the rest of my growing transcended that.

The other thing that struck me were the numerous blanket statements made about what teenagers do or think:

All teenagers are dogmatists; a teenager with a Bible is simply a more intense teenager.

But one of the dirty little secrets about adolescence is that the young fear the very freedom they crave. They intuit the burden of autonomy and want, quite literally, to be "saved" from it. That is no doubt why, as researchers tell us, the average age of conversion is in the early teens.

It took years to acquire the education I missed as a young man, an education not only in books but in a certain comportment toward myself and the world around me. Doubt, like faith, has to be learned.

I think all of these statements are untrue. Or at least, they are too broad. The vast spectrum of temperament, if nothing else, overwhelms any teenage tendency to dogmatism, fear of freedom, or faith. I would indeed say that what is striking about teenage expressions of all these things is how impermanent the expressions often are.

But I do think I know why teenage conversions are the most common. After all, I am a teenage convert myself. And the obvious reason for this has to do with a phenomenon seen over almost all of Western Christianity-- and Judaism, for that matter. It's called a bar mitzvah in one place, and confirmation in another, and believer's baptism in yet another. All of these connect to the notion that a teenager is old enough to take responsibility for his own religion. The custom of the ages leads one to expect commitments to religion at this age. And who knows? Perhaps the Spirit seizes upon this age as one in which to make Itself known. At any rate, it should not be surprising that when teenagers take up responsibility for their own faith, their first act is very often to redirect it from its childhood course.

And speaking of ages, I also note that Mr. Lilla's whole faith history took place three decades ago. Time has turned his complains about the intellectual ghetto of evangelical Christianity upside down. This is not to say that there does not remain an evangelical shallow end; but such lack of depth can be found almost anywhere. (Liberal "intellectuals" can get it on public radio and TV.) Liberal religion is in denial as to the vast armies of reasserters (to use the phrase popular in Anglicanism now) arrayed against them. Crossover between evangelical and Catholic and Anglican writings is par for the course; the very Anglican Lewis has become a very evangelical prophet.

I'm closing in on the 25 year mark on my own teenage conversion, so I suppose I shouldn't be too hard on Mr Lilla. Given teh coming Anglican crisis, reassessment may well be in my future, after all.

Job's Waiter

The biblical Job, that is.

Waiterrant has produced another one of his searing religious posts, this time about the suffering in New Orleans. And I can sympathize with his choice of Bonhoeffer's answer. But I think I am pulled to Philip Yancey's answer in Disappointment WIth God. He summarizes the book in this sermon and interview: where is God in this? God is suffering too, on the cross.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

The Roman Sect

Maybe I shouldn't hammer on Al Kimel so much. But after years of watching the Anglican-to-infallibility conversions I've gotten really tired of the same old contradiction.

In his latest "burn my bridges behind me" attack on his old church, he ends by calling Anglicanism a "sect". Well, shucks. According to the dictionary, the Roman church is a sect too-- which it is. Schism on the basis of theology breeds sects, and there is nothing more within the catholic tradition than breeding those sects. Somewhere along the line one has to grow up and admit that dogmatism leads to division-- and that this is neither good nor bad, but just the way things must be.

Or must be, if we cannot all agree. That's the rub. The hardest fact for the Catholic position is that the big differences (with the conspicuous exception of Arianism) are not going away. One would expect that if human mental effort were even relevant to the matter, one would see the "faulty" positions fall away; but they do not. Instead, Catholicism-- even the word itself-- is coupled to strategies of escaping from the intellectual criticism of one's opponents.

So now we have two big infallible sects: Catholicism, and Orthodoxy. And you know, I don't care. Al says:
One of the reasons I became Catholic was the ability of the Catholic Church, as expressed in Lumen Gentium, both to assert her exclusive catholicity and to affirm the catholic elements found in particular Churches and ecclesial communities outside her canonical boundaries.
But every sect has that ability. It's the plausibility of the assertion that counts, and plausibility is, by its nature, subjective.

The biggest hole in all of this is the amnesia of our many personal histories in this. Since Al is now denying that, by virtue of his priestly office, I ever received grace from his hand, I'm faced with, on the one hand, his and my apparent faith, and its central role in motivating any positive relationship with any church, and on the other, his adoption of a theology which denies efficacy to that faith. It's the same old story I've seen dozens of time: in order to protect his personal judgements from his old church, he picks a new church under whose infallible aegis he can tuck his old faith. The only defense it then requires is that of ratifying his rejection of where he was, a defense it provides by virtue of its claims to infallibility. But what good is one's personal rejection anyway? Catholically, none at all. If the only intellect that can be trusted is that of the magisterium, then they have nothing to say to me. If the only intellect that can be trusted is that of the church fathers, then they have nothing to say to me. Argue with me, and you have conceded some efficacy to my intellect.

In comments to Al's article, one Perry Robinson said:
Going from last to first, the branch theory is implausible because it is ad hoc.
That's about as reasonable as saying the same thing of natural science (and in the latter case, it is an accurate "criticism"). If the church is real, then surely really touching it, hearing it, seeing it, and knowing it trumps ecclesiological theorizing about it. My big problem with Anglicanism is that, after seemingly touching the church in it, I now find big problems in it myself. But what the Catholic position is telling me about my life thus far is self-refuting. If I never touched the church where I was, then I'm basically forced to the conclusion that there is no church, because in the Roman Catholic Church I personally do not touch the church.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

The Family Under the Lasch

Salty Vicar points to an article in Policy Review reflecting on some of the writings of Christopher Lasch, most famous as the author of The Culture of Narcissism. I was not familiar with his work, but as it turns out it is accessible in small doses and reasonably available on the internet.

A convenient example is an article and some responses which originally appeared (in part) in Tikkun. The irst article, while titled as if it were an attack upon the right's view of the family, contains a pretty potent criticism of the left's expansion of the word into "non-traditional" territory. One Lillian Rubin responded specifically (and from a feminist posture) to that critique, prompting a further response from Lasch titled "Why the Left Has No Future". It is a blissful relief to read such discourse (even as much as I disagree with parts of it) after all the positional posturing which is the standard mode of argument in the blogosphere.

I tend to prefer his positions to those of Ms. Rubin in the exchange, if not always for exactly the same reasons. I am struck by his references to "capitalism" in his responses, and I think there is a certain weakness in his position in these references. For example, he says

Professionals, [Moynihan] observes, have a vested interest in discontent, because discontented people turn to professional devices for relief. But the same principle underlies modern capitalism in general, which continually tries to create new demands and new discontents that can be assuaged only by the consumption of commodities.
This is true, but it is looking at the wrong end of the transaction. Professionals become so through investment in education, and they need to make that investment pay off. Even if one eliminates the financial cost of education, the learning of a trade is going to lead someone to exercise it, if only as a matter of personal pride. And if these people didn't study to become therapists of some sort or another, what would they be doing? Lasch exhibits a certain nostalgia for the self-supporting homestead, but the reality is that civilization practically exists out of the creation of commerce to allow the household to rise above the treacherous life of subsistence agriculture or hunting. It's not so much capitalism as it is economy that produces the pressures which Lasch decries.

On the positive side, however, Lasch puts enough difference between himself and the economy to be able to make social criticism about how it is managed. In contrast, the existing left and right forces in politics manifestly lack that distance. The official right effectively denies that such criticism has any merit at all. This is a philosophy for the wealthy and privileged, and it's only made plausible to the masses (a) by their longing to become rich, and (b) because the official left wraps itself up in equally implausible social positions and is in reality also tied up in wealth and privilege.

There's a strangely Panglossian strain to both sides: everything in their subculture is the best of all possible worlds. And the same strain can be heard in Christianity. The last thing either side is willing to admit is that people do not espouse a consistent set of principles and then act accordingly. And yet that's the first thing one should conclude from the Judaeo-Christian recognition of the sinful state of mankind. Thus it's odd, in the middle of the current Anglican crisis, for someone who is a supporter of the leftist program of the church hierarchy to appeal to Lasch, who seems to me (particularly in the article I cited) to be a determined opponent of that program.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Validity of Orders

Back over in Are Anglicans Really Catholic? Al Kimel made the following observation:
I was only noting that for both Catholicism and Orthodoxy, the question of validity of their Orders is simply not a question for them. Why? Because they “know” that they are the catholic Church and therefore they know their ministerial Orders must be valid.

Well, not exactly. Catholics must also "know" Orthodox orders to have been valid because there is a sense in which Catholic orders, springing as they do from a common origin, are dependent in the past on Orthodox orders. In that sense, it's not hard to take the same analogy over to Anglican orders...

...if you feel so moved. Because, again, the ultimate test of validity of orders is whether they "work". Having come into the Episcopal Church without subjecting it to any theological criticism whatsoever, I found myself simply excepting the validity of its ministers, because they were my ministers. It never occurred to me to question, when I changed parishes, whether the sacraments of the rector of St. Mark's Highland were valid: I was an Episcopalian, and St. Mark's was (and is) an Episcopal church, and he was then an Episcopal priest, and where's the problem?

The problem now is that this priest was the Rev. Alvin F. Kimel, Jr., the author of the above quote. And his writings here are not so much renunciations of his old orders, as denunciations. My credulity simply will not stretch as far as this. I received the body and blood from his hands, and as far as I'm concerned, that's better evidence that the Roman theory of Anglican invalidity is horsehockey than any amount of theologizing can produce.

And now that Al has another post on the matter, I must step up to that word "catholic". Here we get caught in the question-begging titular usage of the word by the Roman church, which for sake of any kind of intellectual honesty must be set aside. "Catholic" doesn't mean simply being derivative of what is now the Roman church, and the Roman church will admit this when backed into a corner. To say that the Roman church is Catholic is only to say that it has certain properties.

But again, this falls down into "where I am, there is the church". I spent a decade in a Presbyterian church saying that I believed in "the holy Catholic church", which of course I assumed meant in some sense my own church. After all, as this Wikipedia article points out, mainline protestants of all sorts were saying the same thing in church. What they meant by it, on one level, was faith in the unity of the church through space and time.

These days it seems to me that those who started using the word meant what the Eastern churches today mean by it, and not what the Romans mean by it. I say this only because those who use the term don't have as much control over it as they might think. But what's more striking is the observation that the word was from the beginning used not to include, but to exclude.

Catholicity is ultimately not about who's in the church, but who is outside the church. Its meaning ends up being subjective because it means "what is sufficiently alien from my church as to be excluded".

Going back to the Wikipedia article again, the author goes on to identify a subclass of catholicism in which certain attitudes about sacraments, ecclesiology, and praxis are shared. This is where the problem becomes acute because Anglicans as a rule share views with the Roman and Eastern churches on this set of points, while disagreeing with other views shared by the latter two groups. And on this set of views, they diverge from the other protestants, to the point where some are reluctant to even consider them protestant. But either way Anglicans are going to mean "catholic" in a way that reflects their history.

And we as converts can be suspected of our usage reflecting our personal histories. With respect to someone theologically rejecting Anglicanism for the Roman church, "Catholic" can be taken to mean "not Anglican". Taxonomy is overwhelmed by politics.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

When Primates Meet

Fr. Jake, commenting on Barry Wales evaluation of the primates' meetings:

As I have said previously, I think the issue of authority is emerging as the primary concern in discussions within the Anglican Communion.

Authority is not the problem. Discipline: that is the problem.

See, the problem with a polity that allows almost anything is that it allows actions which "break" that polity. This is reflected on both sides of the current struggle. Ordination of women, Piko-Spongian apostasy, and the current changes in the sexuality teachings of the church all took advantage of the inability of conservatives to bring the polity of the church to bear, both in General Convention but also in ecclesiastical trials which ruled, in essence, that the denomination has no theological limits. A tradition of theological tolerance meant that the conservatives could not preserve their own positions, because they were forced to tolerate liberal positions being increasingly being written into the canons.

And now the same process is being used against them. The lack of any kind of reciprocal control over the various churches means in effect that the communion churches are empowered to act in concert to change that. It's impossible to stop the primates from seizing power, because there is no power there now with which to stop them. As the primates are independent agents-- at least, independent of each other's churches-- there is nothing stopping them from changing the basis of the relationship except the power that each church has over its own primate.

And that explains the actions in Nigeria. That church is being freed internally to make whatever changes it may decide are required externally.

American liberals do not want to be subject to the discipline of a larger communion which disapproves of their actions: that is what the maneuvering around the Windsor Report comes down to.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Where I Am, There Is the Church

Also bouncing around the Anglican blogosphere is a question from All Too Common:

">Are Anglicans Really Catholic?

"Catholic" is of course the most loaded possible word in ecclesiology, so to even begin to confront the question one must pick among its many connotations and denotations. Or one can go straight to the creed, and stick with "universal". Well, OK: that's not good enough either. Better to go straight to the problem claim.

Interpreting "my church is catholic" to mean "my church comprises the entirety of the earthly church" is sectarian. Everyone believes that their own church is part of the "Catholic Church"; in that wise ecclesiology reduces to a rationalization of one's "choice" of church. Given the multiplicity of "one true" churches, and the variety of arguments made for them, I cannot accept the view that rational arguments are going to show us which of the competitors truly is the house of God. Only the presence of God in those places is a truly infallible sign, and if He be found in more than one, then it is clear that the catholicos must encompass more than a single sect.

This is particularly a problem for those who abandon one church for another on the basis of their zeal for the Lord, and especially for clerics who do so. If a priest abandons Canterbury for Rome, and does not denounce all his old "pretense" at sacraments, then when he denounces the legitimacy of his old church on ecclesiological grounds, he is a flaming hypocrite. What I really see is that one's faith can be carried, like luggage, from one church to the next. The actuality of ecclesiology is personal judgement.

Are the Anglican churches by themselves the Catholic Church on earth? No; of course not. Are they of the Catholic Church? Yes; of course they are.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Status Quondam

There's some Anglican blogosphere traffic now about a proposal from Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG as to a more formalized Anglican polity-- that is, respecting the communion as a whole.

I have to agree with J. C. Fisher's assessment: this is nothing more than a condification of the liberal understanding of the current state. And in practice, it will fail for the reason that Thomas Bushnell points out: Akinola et al. insist that what is being done now does affect everyone.

And Akinola does have a point there, and I think the smoke screen about sex vs. theology isn't going to conceal it. As to the latter: it's clear that, for simple theological statements, the Status Quo is utterly disfunctional. No liberal church is going to do anything about a Pike or a Spong, no matter how outrageous their statements. As far as theology is concerned, the communion is now latitudinarian.

But in a "communion", one would tend to understand that sacramental unity is central to the point of what political unity there is. And therefore (for instance) consecration of someone like Robinson does affect everyone, and rites of homosexual marriage or non-marital unions do effect everyone. Besides, the connection between the unitive aspect of sex and the unitve aspect of communion is right there in scripture.

And furthermore, it is apparent that decisions about what actions affect everyone are themselves actions which affect everyone. And indeed, in the status quo we are seeing this being worked out in the current conflict. The American problem is that Robinson's proponents don't like the answer that is being worked out.

The status quo only worked, it appeared, if there weren't any serious issues to disturb it. Now, one way or another, it will fail, and it appears that the communion, and with it, its churches, are headed for formal division.

Monday, October 24, 2005

The TIME "100 Greatest Books" Meme

It was doomed to happen:

Time Magazine puts out a list of the 100 Greatest Novels in Ehglish Since Time began Publishing, and thus everyone must confess how much if one has read.

I've read the following:

  • Animal Farm - George Orwell

  • The Bridge of San Luis Rey - Thornton Wilder

  • Catch-22 - Joseph Heller

  • The Catcher in the Rye - J.D. Salinger

  • Death Comes for the Archbishop - Willa Cather

  • Go Tell it on the Mountain - James Baldwin

  • The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe - C.S. Lewis

  • The Lord of the Rings - J.R.R. Tolkien

  • 1984 - George Orwell

  • To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee

  • Watchmen - Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons

In these cases I've read a different book from the same author:
  • The Blind Assassin - Margaret Atwood (I read The Handmaid's Tale)

  • The Golden Notebook - Doris Lessing (I read several of the "Shikasta" novels)

  • The Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck (I read The Red Pony)

  • Native Son - Richard Wright (I read Black Boy)

  • The Sun Also Rises - Ernest Hemingway (I read The Old Man and the Sea and The Pearl)

  • Ubik - Philip K. Dick (not sure about which one here)

On my list of "to reads":
  • Appointment in Samarra - John O'Hara

  • Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh

  • Invisible Man - Ralph Ellison

Wednesday, October 12, 2005


WaiterRant comes through again with theological insight, this time about the demons and the heard of pigs.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Limits to Insanity

Whenever I look at the theological stupidity and vacuity in ECUSA, it lifts my heart to think:

"At least I'm not in a traditionalist Orthodox church."

For instance, there's the Colorado Craziness in AROC/ROAC. Elsewhere I have commented some on this (see here and here) and you can see a long letter about the deposed Gregory here. So now a monk gets into a squabble, and we have numerous diatribes about this. So I replied:

"And groping I continue to do. I grope for someone to understand. I grope for a kind word. I grope for someone to say, "You are for the Truth Nathaniel, and I stand with you.""

Perhaps it is not clear to you that we do stand with you as to the unworthiness of the deposed Gregory, and that indeed not only have doubts been expressed here since well before the crisis of fourteen months back, I myself have seen a document by one of Gregory's former superiors expressing not doubts but indeed severe reservations, in which stories of his misdeeds are related. But then I have also heard stories about how Gregory was reading men's souls.

So we are not surprised that that there continue to be problems with Gregory. What concerns all of us is the manner of presentation.

In a public forum, the expression of personal concern is very difficult. But what we see is not just the defects of Gregory, but your own airing of what I think all of us believe to be a private matter of your discipline within the monastery. But somehow it is being used as the basis of someone's diatribes against Gregory. And I do not feel that they are truly your diatribes-- not that you have not written them, but that they have perhaps unwittingly been written in the furtherance of another's agenda.

"People complain, "We are sick of hearing from you, Nathaniel. You are a lone voice.""

I do not recall anyone saying anything of the kind-- well, at least not the second sentence. I must confess that I am tired of hearing you, but it's mostly because the hysterical repetition and elaboration of the same accusations does get tiresome, even if I do agree that the object of those accusations is someone to be avoided.

Interest in those accusations has faded as your continued posts reveal more of yourself and nothing more of Gregory.

"Yet for all the "everybody knowing about gregory," he remains alive and well, ravaging and devouring unsuspecting souls, and like a canker worm, eating away any attempts to bring wholeness to the OC scenario."

But I can do nothing, and frankly I think that by now those who can be warned have been so already. And increasingly there is a tone of self-righteousness in the posts, a theme of pride in your self-appointed prosecution.

"Do we really need another OC Jurisdiction in the likes of a GOCA/ gregory? (No) thanks to me, it will not happen this October as was defintly planned by gregory and Angelos. And if it does, everybody will be sickened by the fact that a known pedophile, Angelos, had "laid hands" on the head of Fr George."

But in this you are wrong. The severe problems concerning Gregory were widely known well before his elevation, both testified to by those who knew him personally, and inferred by those who only heard about him second-hand. All of this failed to stop his consecration. Indeed, I am tempted to read between the lines that Valentine did not realize the error of elevating Gregory until he came to Colorado and saw the problems for himself. Thus it seems to me that there will be a good chance that George will feel that hands of consecrating bishops at some time or another, because the lack of order in traditionalist Orthodoxy seems to bring out these crises as a matter of course. We read about the wanderings of Vladimir Moss, Constantine Wright, and the deposed Gregory, and they seem the rule, not the exception. So do not congratulate yourself that George's consecration has been blocked, or for that matter, that you had a part in the current delays.

There is an obvious message in your statement that "I have been in two back to back OC cults": that you are not a good judge of whom you should trust. You should be considering that before you continue. I do not ask you to trust me, though I think my guidance might betray you less than others. But I believe that even now your trust may be misplaced, and that you are being used as the mouthpiece for another's attacks upon Gregory and the skete.

Why am I copying this post here? Read between the lines-- it'll come to you.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Visiting the Past

We installed a new rector in my parish on Sunday. In order to maximize attendance, there were no Sunday morning services, so I decided to go back to my old parish. (Never mind its name.)

When I attended it, it was the very model of a solidly broad church. The liturgy was formal (and sung), but there were no overt Romanisms-- very Protestant and Episcopal. The church is small, and the altar was against the East wall because otherwise there wasn't enough room in the very shallow sanctuarry. The choir area was raised three steps, with a pulpit and choir stalls on one side and the organ console, a big old eagle lectern, and a pew for the servers on the other. The thick stone walls were white-plastered, and above them was mess of dark wood trusses and arches. We used to decorate the church at Christmas by lowering hooks from the peak of the rafters and hanging these huge garlands of holly and mountain laurel among the beams. There was stained glass, of highly varying quality. The rector when I first came was deeply loved, and deeply loving; and his sermons, if heavily laden with the old broad social responsibility, were solid.

So I returned. And now, the choir stalls are gone, and the pulpit is gone, and the lectern stands at the edge of an empty platform. Half of the altar rail is gone, and the other half has been moved in front of the altar, so that the altar has been pulled forward. The place seems strangely bright, and eventually I look up and see that for some unfathomable reason they've painted the underside of the roof white. But it was never intended to be looked at, so the surface is very irregular, and the effect is untidy.

And then I look in the bulletin, and my heart sinks. The liturgy is going to be some of that trial use crap where you can't say anything trinitarian because it contains that nasty word:


At least they take the eucharistic canon from Prayer D, and the confessional isn't too "Oprah", so I can bring myself to take communion. The service lacks electricity, probably in part because the parish has lost its rector in a spat with the vestry, and people are still spooked. There are few people I recognize, almost all of them choir members, who all come over in hopes that I'm thinking about coming back. And I'm thinking, "I'll never come back."

Friday, September 09, 2005

Some Niches Are Just Bigger Than Others

Looking at Al Kimel's post on antinomianism, I am led further back to a post dating from before his renunciation: How to market a boutique church. And I find myself agreeing with half of what he had to say in the latter message. To be precise, the first half.

The second half paints with far too broad a brush-- with William Tighe standing in for Sherwin-Williams. It is perhaps true that the driving liberal forces in ECUSA are pushing towards "high church unitarianism", though I want to save that discussion for later. It is also true that Anglican churches in general, and most expecially the CofE and ECUSA, are not theological monoliths. It's plainly part of the problem that ECUSA lacks (and has always lacked) any kind of theological constraints on its clergy; that is what has allowed traditionally Anglican attitudes to be supplanted of late by theological forces that are clearly foreign.

I'm not happy with Al's characterization of Robert Farrar Capon as a popularizer of Tillich. I must confess not having read a lot of Capon's more recent material, but his older works (e.g. Hunting the Divine Fox are full of the kind of statements that Tillich is alleged to have ridiculed in Anglicanism.

(An aside: Urban Holmes once quoted Tillich as having said that the incarnation was "the Anglican Heresy". I have never been able to find where Tillich might actually have said this. Citation, anyone?)

Anyway-- the point is that, for Protestants looking for a church, Catholicism and Orthodoxy are niches too. Walmart is, after all, a sort of niche retailer; it's just that the niche is really big. Catholicism, for (ex-)Protestants (and especially ex-Anglicans) is the Christian Walmart of "never having to worry about theology again." And just as VGR's niche Anglicanism-- for even (P)ECUSA was much bigger, and remains bigger, than the current liberal fashion-- is a temptation, so is the Catholic Church a temptation for Protestants. In some respects Orthodoxy is even worse, because while you get to escape any kind of liturgical experiments, you also get to denounce everything western.

It's instructive to go to an Episcopal church out west, say, in Great Falls, Montana. at Incarnation they do the 1979 BCP, straight up, no goofiness. There are no guitars, but no strange alterations to the liturgy to trip over. The hymns are sung out of the hymnal, and they are sung seriously. Even at little St. Francis, the tiny church-in-the-round building across town (since closed because the reductions at the airbase deprived it of its parishioners) the liturgy was normal. Out there, the hurricane-in-a-teapot that is VGR and all the works of General Convention can hardly be heard. There is still a lot of life in plain old central church Anglicanism; the problem seems to be that, since it isn't really a niche, it isn't marketable.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Time to Go Back and Read Matthew

OK. So here we have the Salty Vicar:

Granted, for some, life is so challenging that following directions is the best thing they can get from the church. And if my parishioners want that, I have plenty of advice. Sometimes they won't get what they want to hear. But most of the time I can just listen, and people figure out their lives on their own. I think of the Episcopal church as a "listening" church, and for the last 25 years, it's been listening to Gay people. There are plenty of places in scripture where this is exactly the kind of spiritual practice individuals are supposed to have. People are made in the image of God, and by listening to them, we have a clearer understanding of what and who God looks like. Whal Al misses is not that we have a "cavalier attitude" but that we have decided to focus on practice first. And when the tradition is wrong, we change our minds. What are you supposed to do?

So, I go out and visit the Gospel According to St. Matthew (courtesy of The Unbound Bible, I find The Mission Statement (and folks, why does anyone put anything else on a church website?):

"Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."

The difference? Jesus' mission for us is about talking, not listening.

Stop Frank Before He Gives Another Interview!

Courtesy of Fr. Jake, we have this pronouncement from Frank Griswold:

We all claim the authority of scripture. The ancient creeds, the doctrine of the trinity, the nature of Christ -- all these things are not up for negotiation. ... I would say if sexuality becomes the ground on which division occurs, then it means that sex is more important than the doctrine of the holy trinity and the divinity of Christ, which is a very sorry situation to find oneself in. Isn't it ironic that people can overlook Jesus' words about divorce and remarriage and claim biblical orthodoxy and become hysterical over a reference in the letter to the Romans about homosexual behavior? The Bible, of course, didn't understand homosexuality as an orientation. It only understood it as a behavior. Clearly, the biblical writers presumed that everyone was naturally heterosexual.

Right now, I don't have any interest in fighting the homosexuality battle. But +Frank is full of nonsense here. It isn't within his powers to assign meaning to the grounds of the current division.

First: marital scandals of ordinary kinds are rife in the House of Bishops-- and bishops get off for doing them. Well, except the ex-bishop of Montana, who by some coincidence was considered a conservative. So if we are supposed to be resorting to scripture my volume, the liberals are failing.

Second: If a line has to drawn in what passes for teaching in the Episcopal Church, on one level I don't much care where it is drawn. Yes, carping about Robinson, on one level, looks like Donatism. It isn't really, because if that were to be taken seriously it implies that one cannot screen for any sort of moral turpitude. But it isn't really about Donatism; it's about the limits to disagreement within the communion. Now, Frank says that the creeds, the trinity, etc. "are not up for negotiation." The implication is that any kind of moral teaching is up for negotiation, and the rest of the communion-- and for that matter, a large part of his own church-- rejects that. And anyway, as long as Spong isn't officially condemned, must we believe that even the basics aren't up for negotiation? At this point it is being argued within ECUSA in particular whether clerics are required to assent to the statements of the creeds! Not in public, mind you, but priests will remainat their posts and yet assert that saying the creed on a Sunday doesn't imply that they agree with it. Me? I'd fire them on the spot, if I were their bishop.

Griswold likes to claim that things are healing. This is an utterly partisan claim which should be discounted entirely. It's a very safe bet that, within three years, the communion will see a division between the ECUSA (and while I'm at it, Canadian) liberals and the bulk of the communion. And I think it's a pretty safe bet that the CoE, led by Rowan Williams, will go with that bulk. And while I wouldn't bet on this one, a division of ECUSA is also in the cards, because there are enough "conservative" bishops to make a new national church. And thus, it's delusional to think that Frank speaks for his church when he speaks.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Give Me That Old-Time Relationship

Some notions from a WSJ Opinion Journal review by Mark Noll of David Gregory's Dinner With a Perfect Stranger are moving across the blogosphere, leaving a trail through Christianity Today, The Christian Mind, Jolly Blogger, Pontifications, and A Conservative Blog for Peace, which is where I picked it up.

The question at hand is that evangelical catchphrase, "a personal relationship with Jesus". As usual, the issue with this is in two parts: What does it mean? and What does it signify?

The latter is easy. What it signifies, as the theologian in Al Kimel's tale states, is participation in evangelical Protestant Christianity. And the bishop's "I don't care if I lose a convert" answer can be just as well taken to signify politically as spiritually. Presumably if the question had been answered, the answer would have been "yes". The actual response is right our of the beginning of 1st Corinthians-- the bad part, the "I am with Christ" part.

Which brings us to the meaning. Googling for the phrase will keep you searching a long time, because unfortunately it is a catchphrase. But this explanation from "Christ's Ambassadors" will do nicely (unfortunately in the original it's way down the page):

The natural man (unbeliever) and his world can understand "religion". They can readily see how religious originations function, solicit finances, see the propaganda they use to proclaim prospective messages and religion's adherence to a belief-system.

Natural man can also understand statements of history, theology, ideology and even doctrine. And as it's proclaimed today by every so-called moral ideal religion under the sun, the term "Spiritually" is so misused that what spiritually means is blurred out of all relevance.

But it is not possible for the non-believer to understand what it means to "have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ" The Apostle Paul explained that "the natural man cannot understand spiritual things" 1 Cor 2:14. Therefore, it is hard to adequately explain the meaning of this reality to a non-believer. That is because a believers relationship with the Spirit of Christ is outside of natural mans ability to understand on a purely rational, philosophical and scientific basis. He can't see, touch or hear it! It's only revealed to believers through our Lord!

Here is the clue to motives of the Florovsky's interrogator. "Personal relationship", it seems, isn't so much about itself as it is about theology. "Relationship" (a dangerous word in the hads of a mathematician) doe have to be qualified; not just any relationship will do. And it appears that the relationshp that is specifically bad is one that is strictly intellectual-- that is, founded only in theology.

Surely anyone who can take a step back from theology knows that its greatest peril is to end up talking about things of which it really knows nothing. Ironically, the most famous exponent of this criticism is also its most famous offender: Thomas Aquinas. Therefore it is pitifully easy to translate the theology student's query out of any specificly Protestant context, and read it as saying, "Is there any Jesus in the ocean of words you've just poured over our heads?"

The single biggest problem Christians have in talking theology to the World is convincing anyone that our words have any relationship to anything real. Indeed, as Jolly Blogger hints in his discussion of Harold Bloom's dissection of the SBC, in some respects the world likes it that way, because it makes it easy to dismiss the Christian message.

The irony, then, is that the revisionist plague is largely a self-inflicted wound, though no traditionalist is going to want to admit that. In a context where a theologian can blythely dismiss the question of such a relationship, a context where theology moves with great freedom, it is not hard for theology to escape from any such demands of relationship and being willing to live without Jesus. Evangelical "revisionists" collapse into mere vacuous spirituality, but it is the duty of epsicopal revisionists to seize the ecclesiological edifice and put it to work for their own ends, because (it perhaps seems) there is no Jesus there to act as the true landlord. The revisionists see every traditionalist bishop not merely as Saruman, but as a Denethor; and each one calls himself the herald of Aragorn.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Kew Continues

In Richard Kew's blog he has posted articles on why he remains an Anglican with Part Two here and the final part here.

I have to say that, while I agree with most of the sentiments stated, I personally don't find these reasons strong enough. I just can't think that comfort with the theological processes or liturgy is a good enough reason. I'll explain why in a later post.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Brand Loyalty - Round 1

Salty Vicar, about two weeks back, had a post about the decline of mainline churches. Now it's important to remember in talking about this decline that it's largely the decline and fall of the United Methodist Church. ECUSA in particular has been more stagnant than declining. I don't want to get into the statistics, but the argument can be made that, as it stands, the Episcopal Church is going to get some fraction of the upper middle class at a certain age, and its fortunes depend entirely on how many people are in the class and age group at any given time. I suppose Anglican production values are important in packing the pews at Christmas; I have to doubt that they ever did much to keep the extremely nominal in the pews during the rest of the year.

I'm wary of talking too much about how the other people look at church. Partly that's because of my own history: I've been closely coupled to church since high school-- even when I was in college-- and being thus religious, I've kept a close eye on my own church participation. By the same token, anecdotes about others are troublesome, especially when talking about people whose expression of how they view religion is manifestly unexamined.

I think the movement between mainline churches has always been pretty free. It comes with the territory. Certainly my father's sort-of-Methodist family has had no problem sliding over to Presbyterian churches when the local Methodists where unsympathetic-- or simply when the latter was more vigorous. And I think the possibility of movement between the (less-classy) baptist-polity churches and the mainline was always there too. But I think that, in general, the mainline churches tended to take their congregations for granted.

It's particularly obvious when you look at the Anglican "broad" tradition and its baptodisterian analogues. Social action preaching always had to rely on its members being something of a captive audience; priests and ministers assumed that they were in a position to lecture their charges on issues that weren't directly religious. I don't think this was a strategy so much as the natural expression of confidence in the righteousness of their teaching. But it was easily turned not only into self-righteousness, but into a conflict of interest. Clerics used the prestige of establishment churches to attack establishment values. The endpoint of this in ECUSA was Spong's reliance on his episcopal throne to sell books and papers attacking almost anything anyone had ever taught in the church, and finally attacking the creeds which are still said every Sunday morning. The same thing happened at the universities in the '60s. In the latter case, Harvard was thus reduced from the center of American establishment values to a mere stamp on the ticket to a place in the boardroom or the law office. Likewise, Episcopalians were reduced to mistrusting their church-- regardless of which side of any conflict they were on-- because their clerics ceased to have any loyalty to any precepts of their church.

It's no longer good enough to see the white-and-blue sign with the church arms. You have to find out what the rector is teaching; the sign doesn't tell you anymore. You cannot even be assured that the liturgy will reflect Anglican virtues of any era, because all too often "Anglican" means "the liturgical style against which we rebel". One might find RC Novus Ordo-style chaos, or some sort of liturgical theater which I find unbearable in its self-consciousness. There was, of course, some degree of churchmanship variation, though the trend for the entire previous decade was towards a fairly high and increasingly Catholic style of liturgy. But to be blunt: the average visitor walking into a mainline church understands that he has a pretty good chance of being subjected to the ministry of someone he considers fatally wrongheaded, if not an outright heretic.

The ministry of women in the church has enjoyed the parallel evolution of society to recognize the more general ministry of women in the world. The orthodoxy of the world is that women can do whatever they set their minds to do. (It also doesn't hurt that the theological arguments against the priesthood of women tend to be lame.) In this, the church establishment acts exactly as such, taking positive steps to supress the dissenters on this issue. On homosexuality, the situation is entirely different. All the turmoil over sexuality which can be swept under the rug when it comes to women must necessarily be revealed in an issue which is, after all, about precisely sexuality. The liberal side is trying to do what they did in the '60s with other issues, except that this time it isn't working, because they spent the last thirty years demonishing the edifice of authority which they are now trying to inhabit. The result-- open revolt-- should be unsurprising. Mainline churches are all caught between the desire to be the default brands of protestant Christianity, and the actuality of being the party organs of liberal factions.

What's remarkable isn't the resulting lack of growth. It's the stubborn resistance-- so far-- of ECUSA in a situation where numbers should have been dropping steadily for decades. Instead, the ECUSA of the fifteen years has maintained its numbers. Perhaps there is a sign here that there is a commitment to the Episcopal Church that runs deeper than mere choice of an acceptable church.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Why "Kings Lynn"?

The name of this blog refers to a hymn by Chesterton in the 1940 and 1982 hymnals that is sung (in my church, though not, I find, in all churches) to Ralph Vaughan Williams' tune "Kings Lynn":

O God of earth and altar,
bow down and hear our cry,
our earthly rulers falter,
our people drift and die;
the walls of gold entomb us,
the swords of scorn divide,
take not thy thunder from us,
but take away our pride.

From all that terror teaches,
from lies of tongue and pen,
from all the easy speeches
that comfort cruel men,
from sale and profanation
of honor, and the sword,
from sleep and from damnation,
deliver us, good Lord!

Tie in a living tether
the prince and priest and thrall,
bind all our lives together,
smite us and save us all;
in ire and exultation
aflame with faith, and free,
lift up a living nation,
a single sword to thee.

It's an interesting tune as RVW arranged it in part because of the unusual cadence at the end: instead of the usual v-i or V-i cadence for a minor key, it has a iv-i cadence-- a grimmer sound, to my ear. Various sources say that it is related (through a Norfolk folk tune) to the American sacred harp tune "Pilgrim". You can click here to see/hear for yourself, though one can tell that the relationship is fairly distant. (For those unfamiliar with sacred harp music: the melody is in the tenor line.)

As for the choice: it's relevance to the current state of Anglicanism should be obvious.

A Few Ground Rules

I want to make a few rules clear.

First: the usual insistance on civil discourse. This is surely a hot-headed topic, but I believe we can discuss it without biting each other's heads off.

Second: Co-opting the comments to make sales pitches for your chosen church is going to be cut short. I've heard most of them already.

Third: I'm not a trophy to be hung on your Wall of Conversions.

Fourth: I'm not awarding points for repetition of the Standard Arguments/Claims, and I'm betting that God isn't either. Talk to me; argue with me; but don't posture.

Fifth: Absolutely no discussion of civil politics.

Sixth: I am not my church. If you feel you must denounce ECUSA, don't do it here. (Individual bishops and other clerics may be denounced within reasonable limits, subject to Rule Four.)

Take Not Thy Thunder From Us

For a few years now, I've kept a blog named Online Religion Discursus about some of the ways people talk about religion on the internet. I'm not discontinuing it, not yet anyway, but it has seemed to me that there is less and less to talk about-- or at any rate, less and less that I wanted to talk about. And apparently, not much that people wanted to read about. Writing a blog as a self-proclaimed expert isn't apparently very interesting to others, and I don't have the time to serve as the sort of neutral news-linker that Kendall Harmon so ably supplies in titusonenine.

But I've found that there is something I do want to talk about, very much. I'll post more biographical material in the following days, for those who really feel they want to know, but my problem in a nutshell is that I'm an Episcopalian.

These days, The Episcopal Church is a mess. You might not notice it from the church website, or even if you go to a decent middle of the road parish and didn't read the papers for the past year. Unless you are a liberal triumphalist, it's hard not to worry. But at the same time, I can't just jump ship and flee to some other church.

What I'm hoping this blog will do is allow me to talk about this spiritual struggle in a larger context than just my wife and (from time to time) my priest.