Friday, March 30, 2012

The Great (but late) Commission

When a blog post collects two hundred comments in the matter of a couple of days, it's hard to keep up, and I miss things. And mostly that's OK, because with that kind of outpouring there's bound to be a lot of repetitious exchanges which are largely skippable. Thus I missed this off-hand assertion when it went flying by in the big CWoB thread in the Episcopal Cafe:
I will note that 'The Great Commission' a poorly attested addition and arguably late addition to Matthew's Gospel[.]
I'm not a textual scholar, so I'm not equipped to refute this the hard/scholarly way. Fortunately, however, one of the nice things about having an internet is that there are always plenty of them lying around, ready for citation. And in this case, Derek Olsen, who is such a scholar, saw this passage first. And he doesn't think much of this assertion:
On the strength of the actual evidence, then, we’ve got to conclude that, contra the starting claim, the Great Commission in its familiar form is very well attested textually and there is only one hint read through a particular philosophical construct to the contrary.
Well, I'm not surprised to hear that. There are a very few big disputed passages, such as the Comma Johanneum, the Pericope of the Adultress, and the endings of Mark, and there are a host of shorter passages of some variation, including the doxology of the Lord's Prayer. One hears about the major ones right off if one looks at the subject at all, and in any case if one uses a modern bible the footnotes are going to tell you about the problems. In my RSV Common Bible, the last page of Matthew is utterly bare of textual notes, and the last such note in my NEB New Testament is back at the beginning of chapter 27.

But the whole form of the argument should tell you all you need to know anyway. "It's a late addition" is Protestant/Enlightenment- speak for "this passage is a problem, so I'm going to dismiss it by implying that there is an earlier, more authentic version that leaves it out." It's the Thomas Jefferson approach to theological argument, and the average layman is well-advised to dismiss such arguments out of hand.

I note Derek's comment towards the end about the pattern of trying to cast Trinitarian doctrine as late and therefore an innovation. Unitarianism has been an occupational hazard of Anglican clerics for a quarter millennium, but really in the interest of institutional knowledge, priests and deacons who are going to set aside the creed need to turn in their orders and go find some other job. Restorationism is the road to theological solipsism, and combining it with modern rationalism is the highway to the altar of the Spirit of the Age.

That Not Meddlesome Enough Archbishop

Reading and analyzing the same sex blessings proto-rite took away the time I would have needed to write the apparently obligatory postmortem of Rowan Williams's tenure as Archbishop of Canterbury. But really, on the level that most people felt moved to write those things, I didn't want to do so. Much of what was written was predictably partisan: the StandFirmites all attacked him for not stopping the advance of liberalism, the anti-Covenant crowd attacked him for being its chief advocate, and a small crowd of radicals attacked him for not pushing the homosexualist agenda. A bunch of moderates of various persuasions said laudatory things.

I find it very hard to participate in any of this, with one exception. Much of the commentary is based upon the juxtaposition of Williams's publicly expressed viewpoint on homosexuality, before his enthronement, and his failure to advance those positions once he became archbishop. This was widely attacked as either a lack of conviction, or a deceit; but I continue to hold it to be a noble expression of the largely forsaken principle that the president of a body is first responsible to it, and not to his own party within it.

As to how he managed that responsibility: I do not feel I am competent to express much of an opinion on this, and I think most of those who are expressing such opinions are as unqualified as I am to offer them. But the possibility of anyone succeeding as Cantuar, on any terms other than the most progressive radicalist, seems to me to be extremely small. Consider the last Lambeth conference, which was pretty much of a wash (and therefore, given the need for action, a failure). The disinvite of Robinson was, I think, entirely justified, but the program of talking everything to death in small groups was surely doomed to produce nothing of merit. At the same time, the global south conservatives, on the advice of their American advisors, sabotaged the conference anyway, thus granting a moral victory to the very people they oppose the most.

People keep saying that the communion needs a "strong leader". The American progressives are adamant that Cantuar is going to lead nothing, as far as they are concerned, and GAFCON is a institutionalization of the same position from the other side. At this point, the communion cannot be led, and I'm rather doubtful that the Church of England can be led either. The only people who can win through "leadership" within the current structures, it seems to me, are the radical latitudinarians who can use the still lingering Anglican urge towards adiaphora and canonical mechanisms of the churches to drive off the traditionalists and conservative evangelicals and thus win the denominations over to their views by default. In other words, we can have the kind of destructive leadership epitomized by our presiding bishop and her compatriots at 815, or we can have ineffectuality. People are starting to say that nobody wants to be Archbishop of Canterbury. Well, I suspect that there are various radicals who would love the position, but I think most anyone else would be mad (or at least relentlessly driven by a sense of obligation) to take it. A strong conservative would face open rebellion.

Meanwhile, the institutions are becoming increasingly problematic. Matt Kennedy and I don't tend to agree on a lot, but his analysis of how the revisionists work does pick up one note: among the progressives there is a strong sense of church institutions as tools to be used to advance their positions. His conservative faction cannot do the same because the machinery won't push in that direction: the crucial people in the middle are not going to turn into theological authoritarians. At the same time simple disobedience is becoming a pervasive feature of church "administration", so that the most depressing aspect of the Communion Without Baptism push is the very large number of parishes that flagrantly disobey the existing canons. Same-sex blessings/marriages are widely permitted by bishops who also wink at many other big canonical violations. Many of these same bishops expect obedience from their conservatives which they do not demand from their liberals. Increasingly what passes for leadership is conservative rebellion and schism, or progressivist litigation. This church cannot be led in any positive sense, at least until the bishops start acting in some sort of concert and take their vows seriously as defenders of what they have received.

I have no idea whether things have progressed so badly in England. If one takes Jeffrey Johns as an exemplar there are surely those who wish it so.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Blessing for Study Only: The Conclusion

Let me start this summary post by saying that I have doubts that this rite will be approved as such. Its existence is something of an act of appeasement, but the only ones who are likely to satisfied by such a rite are "moderates" who are uncomfortable with homosexual marriages but who acknowledge that the church needs to do something towards homosexual families (for in the end, isn't that where is is all headed?). Those moderates are going to have trouble as more and more state governments find themselves conducting homosexual weddings; the pressure of social justice will trump theology, and the homosexual activists will put them on the spot and make their position politically untenable. The heteronormative side (and for all it's a faux-clinical sociologism, it's an accurate enough nutshell description that I'm going stick with it here) isn't going to find these blessings even slightly acceptable, and of course the homosexual activists want marriage, period, except for a small contingent who want to argue that there is something special about same-sex relationships that frees them from the commitments of marriage. This last group, I think, cannot prevail either; the argument about homosexuality that can win has to argue for exact equivalence.

And that's where we start running into trouble in this rite. There has been a running theme in these posts that this liturgy is trying to both be and not be a marriage. I see four different inputs, in fact:
  • The baptismal rite, which has contributed mostly structure

  • Enriching Our Worship, which is the source of a lot of dubiously orthodox variation in the common elements of the rite

  • The marriage rite, which contributes the core elements and language

  • Novel lessons and rewrites which attempt to make this not the marriage rite
I personally don't see the reason for taking on the baptismal rite structure, but though it is a very prominent change it has the least impact to the significance of the rite. The EoW revisionism is utterly unacceptable to me, but it's potentially an independent issue: the rite could be made to use orthodox language (though I suspect that the anti-dominical crowd is entirely subsumed within the supporters of same-unions/marriages, and that the two issues are locked together through common participation in a modernist theological worldview; but they could be addressed as separate issues.) It is the mixture of novel and marital material that presents the central issue.

The rite is obviously trying very hard to NOT be a marriage rite, and anything that can be explicitly linked to marriage is conspicuous in its exclusion. Conversely, for all the appeal to baptism, and for all that the rite is reordered like baptism, marriage is plainly the starting point. As I said at the beginning, nearly every element of the marriage rite appears. OK, so what is this rite actually doing? Well, that's a very good question. Our theology admits that marriages have a reality outside of what we do in church, as reflected in the considerable difference between the celebration of a marriage (which is to say, a wedding as something done in church) and the blessing of an existing civil marriage. I have to presume that, on some level, this same-sex blessing rite reflects the same connection to a civil unions, which is why there's that rubric allowing the bishop to change the wording of the pronouncement so as to reflect the laws of the state. So what's going with those unions? Well, from a legal POV they are supposed to force everyone to recognize the couple as a family; and I would assume that they are intended to have the social/moral effect of authorizing sexual relations (and by extension, prohibiting other relations).

Or to put it more baldly, they are weddings-in-everything-but-the-name. So here's Sarah Breuer's explanation of the blessing she had after she was married in Canada:
That was the clearest way we could think of to satisfy our bishop's direction that it be very clear that the service in our parish was NOT the performance of a marriage or blessing of a marriage contract.

But it's quite difficult, if same-sex couples may be blessed at all, to figure out what, if anything, ought to be radically different in the liturgy. One priest friend objected that the vows we used were too close to those of marriage. When I asked her what we should promise to do differently -- eliminate a commitment to fidelity? say we can call the whole thing off if the "richer/poorer" or "sickness/health" thing makes it difficult? -- she couldn't think of what to change.
Breuer took a different liturgical starting point, but in the end that question of what to promise differently hangs over the the matter, and in the end, the answer given seems to be, "we will always say 'covenant' instead of vows, and never say 'marry', 'husband', or 'wife'." And ontologically, well, she had a same-sex marriage: the government in Canada said so, and I don't think that blessing it as if it were something else changes that; nor do I think that she had any intention of reinterpreting her state of connubiality to fit what her bishop would or would not allow.

And that's where I expect this to be headed: I think this is going to be set aside in favor of approving same-sex marriages, and that therefore this material is going to be used to "update" the marital rite instead.

And right away, in the readings, a problem appears: most of the OT lessons are fighting against this. Three of the readings specifically establish the ancient understanding based on the complimentarity of the sexes. Well, if same-sex marriage is the same thing, then those readings don't really tell us anything about marriage, it appears. So what does? Well, that is a very good question. Back in the discussion of the readings I noted that the readings abandoned any material about marriage per se in favor of readings about the Christian life in general or (in the case of the OT readings) a couple of passages extremely problematic even in the context of homosexual relationships. Those latter surely do not inform heterosexual marriages, and if we have to exclude the most traditional passages as opposing homosexuality, then we have virtually nothing left except for one passage from the Song of Songs, which may be Solomon's, but which is devoted to romance, not the life of the household.

And that's the core of the theological difficulty. Back at the beginning, I referred to one position as the "heteronormative side", which is to say, those who hold to the ancient pattern of marriages between men and women as a norm, a moral rule. But beside the norm stands the normal. That, more than anything else is what drives everything about this issue: "treat us like normal people" is the homosexual cry. Well, OK: on some levels I don't think this is even vaguely arguable. The notion that two people need to have some sort of ceremony to put legal force behind the permission of one to visit the other in the hospital and otherwise see to their care is absurd on its face. But this has nothing to do with sex, and it has a great deal to do with the way hospitals are run. Invoking normality here is going to lead directly to the statistical normality of marriage as the union of a man and a woman into a household, a family, out of which children proceed. The fact that in general such marriages do not begin with children, and that they are expected to continue after said children are grown, or that the marriage may be infertile either through physical defect or age of the couple or contrivance: all of these are nonetheless edge conditions, through the edges be rather broad as these go. If homosexual marriages are "just like" the ordinary kind, they nonetheless fall into the edges as well, being infertile and uncommon. This doesn't imply that there is "really" something wrong with them, but rather that they don't have a claim to dictating the nature of the ordinary, male-and-female, child-bearing variety.

That's one of the two big risks here (the other being that the anti-dominionist heresies will gain entrance to the marriage rite). If you read what Wikipedia has to say about marriage, you will find that they (at the moment, at least) define it as "a social union or legal contract between people that creates kinship." Well, no, not really: that would be adoption. Why is the definition so, well, wimpy? Because (as you can see from the thirteen pages of archived discussion) in an attempt to cover everything they've basically taken out any character, because there is always some edge case somewhere which contradicts any definite character the state of matrimony is commonly said to have. The temptation is going to be to cut down what we now say about normal marriage so as to fit homosexuality into the same pattern. Marriage may thus be pried free of scripture because too much of what scripture says states that the normal pattern is a man and a woman. Trying to find marriage simply in agape leads to its dilution into all interpersonal relationships. Where does one find the requirements for chastity, fidelity, and permanence, for instance? The challenge of theological justification for homosexual marriage is to find it in theology which does not disrupt the teaching we already have about marriage between men and women. This rite, and its justification, doesn't provide a road map for that.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

No to Communion Without Baptism

My parents did not do bumper stickers. Ever. Except for one case: Around 1970, Marriott wanted to build a theme park a few miles from our house, a prospect which was widely loathed among our neighbors. Therefore they affixed a bumper sticker to the our station wagon reading "No to Marriott Proposal".

And I must similarly and relentlessly object to a proposal from Eastern Oregon to eliminate baptism as a requirement for communion. Atlanta, you may recall, tested the waters with a local proposal for "a year for theological and catechetical reflection, dialogue, discussion, conversation and listening among parishes of this diocese on 'Communion of the Unbaptized'", which was defeated there. Now it's going straight to GC, and intends to change of the C&C right away.

I've been over the intellectual climate of this before. As to the theology, it's hard to top Tobias Haller's succinct rejoinder:
The church is radically inclusive and baptism is the means by which people are included. Communion is the celebration of that inclusion, not its means.

It is supremely ironic that a church that spends so much energy (rightly) celebrating the baptismal covenant could then turn its back on its significance in what seems a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of these two sacraments, and their interrelationship.
To this I can only add that abandoning baptism as the standard of membership represents a failure of our religious nerve so profound as to tip the balance against our institutional continuance. What's the point of a church that by implication admits that being a part of it is of no real consequence?

Communion Without Baptism is anathema; this is not negotiable.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Blessing for Study Only IV

Now we are headed into the core of the same sex blessing rite. I pick up where I left off, at the beginning of the prayers for the couple about to be united. This is another place where the structure of baptism is most plainly imposed on this service, as prayers said by the minister after the wedding have been changed into a litany said by all before the exchange of vows. In 1928 there are three prayers before the proclamation: a prayer for keeping the covenant, a prayer for children, and a prayer for the married life; these, preceded by the Lord's Prayer, fall between the proclamation and the blessing. In 1979 the covenant prayer has been recast as the collect (an element missing from older rites) and the prayer for the married life now appears as one of the alternatives for the blessing prayer. The Lord's Prayer still begins the prayers, but they are divided into two sections, the second being put with the blessing. The first section is a much longer series of short petitions, with the prayer for children appearing in the midst of these. As I said in the first part, the style of this section is more like that of older books, with responses limited to "Amen". In the SSB rite, however, this entire chunk is moved to precede the vows. And it is now cast as a litany, albeit of an odd form that attempts to fuse Form IV and Form VI of the Prayers of the People, a conjunction that is not to my mind felicitous. Form IV uses a "grant/that" form with silence and a refrain; Form VI uses a V&R structure. The fusion is therefore rather abrupt and choppy, because the "that" portion of the petition is missing. Also, yet again we have another novel alternative: instead of praying to God in his mercy, we may now prayer to Him in his goodness. What exactly is wrong with the usual response?

The marriage prayers are arranged as an introduction, a collect, and sevenfold petitions in the middle, asking for wisdom, a common will, a spirit of forgiveness, a sign to the world, children, concern for others, and strengthening of the bond of all those now married who witness the marriage. The SSB petitions roughly parallel these, but there is also an option to add to this a very short version of the Prayers of the People, with each of the required elements of the latter addressed. This is yet another thing that has no precedent: the PotP is one of the two elements that are inevitably lost for any kind of special liturgy (the other being the confession, but surely you didn't expect to see that). I have twice been at weddings which took place during one of the Sunday morning service, a practice which is explicitly authorized for this rite; and if so, the Sunday readings preempt those given here, which is not rubricated for marriage.

The collect provided is a bit peculiar. For one thing, it isn't addressed to the deity in any particular way. Every one of the collects in the BCP is addressed explicitly either to God, or the Father, or the Lord or Jesus Christ. Here the minister prays to the "[g]iver of every gift, source of all goodness," whom I presume is supposed to be God; but if we were following the normal pattern this would be worded "O God, the giver of every gift and source of all goodness". Later it refers to "the saving work of Jesus," omitting the nearly invariable title of "Christ"; and the form of the conclusion is rather odd. It's of a form usually reserved for prayers which address the Father, and this section ordinarily would invoke the Spirit; but it mentions the reign of Jesus alone, and there is mention neither of the Father nor of the Spirit. I find it disturbing that the material here is so adverse to normal, Anglican, trinitarian language; is it too much to ask that SCLM follow the traditional forms, with all the creedal endorsement implied?

And now we have the Lord's Prayer, the only part of the whole rite in which there is no deviation from the BCP language. I note in passing that the SSB rite changes the introduction to the standard "now say/bold to say" form used almost everywhere except in the marriage rite. I have no idea why marriage is different, but this change at least makes sense.

Finally, we reach the vows. As I mentioned before, there is no transition into this at all in the marriage rite, which is generally found wanting. Here we have what I can only call overcompensation. 1979's transition sentences are almost always quite short and to the point; here the blunt invitation is padded out by stating that the couple are "illumined by the Word of God and strengthened by the prayer of this community". Well, one hopes so, and generally pre-1979 (and most of that book as well) prefers to express the hope that God has chosen to bless us. But there's a certain presumption in claiming that listening and prayer have achieved such a state, and in any case it's unnecessary to say so.

Be that as it may, the vows are then exchanged. And here we come upon a curiosity: while roughly half of the wording comes form the marriage rite, a great deal of that comes not from the marriage vows, but from the promises, recalling that almost none of the latter appears in the SSB promises. To that end I have formatted the vow text as follows: italics indicate material from the promises, bold from the marriage vows (with bold italics for one passage which parallels a marital passage but is reworded), and plain text for the material which is entirely new.
In the name of God,
I, N., give myself to you, N.,
I will support and care for you by the grace of God:
enduring all things, bearing all things.
I will hold and cherish you in the love of Christ:
in times of plenty, in times of want.
I will honor and keep you with the Spirit's help:
forsaking all others,
as long as we both shall live.

This is my solemn vow.
By way of contrast, I've bolded the passages here of the marriage vows which were not retained (noting that the third excision is replaced by a similar passage from the promises):
In the Name of God,
I, N., take you, N., to be my wife, to
have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse,

for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to
cherish, until we are parted by death. This is my solemn vow.
It is no surprise that the first clause is not retained; the inversion from "taking" to "giving", however, leads to the central difference, because I am moved to ask, "give how, and for what?" Looking at the content of the vows, other than the words "husband" and "wife", they are not strikingly different; the omissions seem more inclined to reduce the obvious similarity rather than to suggest that sickness or "worse" are cause for abandonment of the union. The additions, the appeals to the "grace of God", the "love of Christ", and the "Spirit's help" (and here again, where is the Father?) don't substantially change what the participants are promising to do, except for that husband and wife thing.

And oddly, the blessing of the ring is almost identical to that of the wedding (substituting "covenant" for "vow"), but the actual giving is utterly different, and there is a provision for blessing rings already being worn, which suggests a custom I am not aware of. (Update: Toni points out that part of this comes from the 1979 blessing of a civil marriage. The first sentence, however, is completely new.) And speaking of difference: the proclamation which follows is accompanied by a rubric which essentially allows the bishop to rewrite it in any way deemed desirable to conform to the law, so presumably this could be used as a marriage rite if that's all that the law of the state allows for. And I don't understand why, but one of the most famous lines of the marriage rite has been dropped: "Those whom God has joined together let no one put asunder." Why? I cannot tell. (Update: Bill Dilworth reminds me that this is a direct quote of Jesus talking about marriage.)

We're in the home stretch, now, because the only element left is the blessing, and it takes the two step form seen in the 1979 BCP of a prayer preceding the blessing proper, though there is no amen between them. I would say the latter is a mistake, as the addressee of the text switches from God to the couple between the sections. But both options in the BCP end with a "lives and reigns" conclusion which is absent here; one gathers that perhaps the authors thought of this all as one prayer, which it really isn't. Now, as far as I can tell there is nothing in the 1979 blessing proper that would prevent it being used in this context. But after "God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, bless, preserve, and keep you," the text diverges rapidly. One senses the intent to produce something noticeably different, but the intent to produce something good is not as well-manifested. Structurally, the whole thing is rather awkward, lacking parallelism and availing itself of odd turns of expression (e.g. "Jesus the Christ": why?).

And last of all, we have an alternative preface and post-communion prayer. It's a lead-pipe cinch that the marital preface is unusable, jumping straight into the church-as-bride-of-Christ image. So instead we have love between persons as a reflection of the unity of the godhead. Well, sort of: maybe we can make that work with agape, but with eros? And the post-communion prayer is just awkward. These special-purpose prayers generally do not reflect the best writing of the 1979, but that for marriage is at least serviceable if short on rhetorical flourish: it moves from the union of communion to the union of husband and wife, and from there into a hope for their life and for the new life at the end. The SSB prayer reverses those elements, and more or less shoves the union aside to pray for our mission. That mission is a good thing to pray for, but it seems out of context here.

And then we are done with the words. I have one final post to sum it all up.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Blessing for Study Only III

OK, intrepid liturgists, this is where it gets ugly, because I here take up the wording of the proposed same sex blessing rite. Recall from the first installment that it is possible to get through this liturgy without saying anything in common with the marriage rite other than the Lord's Prayer. This is enabled in very large part by the provision for non-dominical versions of much of the conventional dialog of the liturgy, so that there alternatives for each of the following liturgical tropes:
  • Opening sentences: Except during Easter the BCP version isn't offered at all (because we cannot say "his kingdom"), and the Easter acclamation allows substituting "Christ" for "Lord" in the response. Ordinary time allows use of a non-trinitarian version, and there is no provision made for Lent.
  • At the collect: The presider may say "God be with you" instead of "The Lord be with you."
  • After the readings: The reader is given two alternatives to "The Word of the Lord".
  • At the Gospel: The deacon may say "The Holy Gospel of our Savior Jesus Christ" instead of "our Lord Jesus Christ". Note though that the closing versicle and all the responses retain "Lord".
  • At the Peace: The presider may say "The Peace of Christ" instead of "the Peace of the Lord".
All of this represents an independent theological innovation, and one for which I see no real need. In the case of the neutering of the God-language I have a particular problem, because if taken seriously, it prevents us from using the language of scripture. It reminds me of the passage in 3001: The Final Odyssey where Frank Poole, having been revived, hears the expurgated version of Dave Bowman's final words. He knows that his crewmate didn't say "By Deus", and I know that scripture, and thus our old liturgy, refers God as "he" in every case. And that's before I get to the issue of whether the masculine language is even significant (which is way too big an argument to bite off here). Of course, eliding the trinitarian address and refusing to say that Jesus is Lord and God are complete non-starters for the vast majority of Christians across time and space. The rite itself is enough of a violation of that unity without increasing the division at every turn of phrase.

But leaving that aside, we have now exhausted, excepting again the Lord's Prayer, any common language with any other rite. Everything else here is new. Now, classically the language of prayer book rites is taken either from that of older Anglican books, or is adapted from scripture. To some degree that remains true here. For instance, the V&R section that follows the opening sentences in baptism is taken from Ephesians 4:4-6; the corresponding exchange here is taken from 1 John 4:7-8,11. After that, though, the greeting is a strange composite. In the marriage rite, this is composed (as I mentioned in the first part) of three parts: the greeting proper, the sign, and the statement of purpose. The last two elements are omitted here. No analogy is made between this union and anything sacramental, though the readings tend to imply a connection to the life of the members in love and harmony with each other. And the statement of purpose is also dropped. In their place, a bit of the old marital promises is adapted (I note for instance the phrases "forsaking all others" and "as long as they live"). This is followed by a bit of, well, barely-mitigated glurge:
Ahead of them is a life of joy and sorrow,
of blessing and struggle,
of gain and loss,
demanding of them the kind of self-giving love
made manifest to us in the life of Jesus.
Christ stands among us today,
calling these two people always to witness in their life together
to the generosity of his life for the sake of the world,
a life in which Christ calls us all to share.
Ah, the heroic battles over who gets up first and makes the coffee; at least they are likely to be spared the titanic contest over the position of the toilet seat. This is the kind of puffery that really gets to me in recent liturgical texts. Older texts may be florid; 1979 may be terse to the point of being abrupt; but this is neither vigorous like the old, nor forthright like the new, but is empty padding: the high fructose corn syrup of liturgy. Well, having gotten that out of the way, we next have an unnecessary transitional paragraph to get us to the collect, which of course begins with the Pavlovian exchange to which all Anglicans respond with prayer.

There are four collects offered, the last specifically for those who bring children to the relationship. I begin by noting that only the third uses the classic "you/who/do/through" collect form. (The marriage rite has the frequent 1979 quirk of saying "you have created us male and female" instead of "who has created us", which is less than felicitous.) This third option, though, is cast as a thanksgiving rather than as a petition: it's constructed like a postcommunion prayer. It also has an odd theological deviancy, in that it expresses an eschatological hope towards us being granted "a dwelling place eternal in the heavens," whereas 1979 and earlier books consistently prefer "heavenly kingdom". Returning to the first, this is the parallel to the marital collect, substituting "covenant" for "vows". however, it is also the non-dominical option, because they prayer is "through through Jesus Christ our Savior," not "our Lord". The second option makes a different alteration, substituting "to the ages of ages" in place of "for ever and ever". It would be, admittedly, a more accurate translation of the Latin-- or the Greek, since this is the common Orthodox phrase in translation. But it isn't the way we normally translate it. In any case the text of the prayer is quite vague about why anyone would happen to be there, outside of mentioning "their life together".

The fourth option is interesting in that it tries to address the issue of blended families. I'm not sure the collect is the place to do this, but a prayer for the larger family being formed is, I think, a welcome addition. That said, this prayer steps way outside the conventional form of a collect. These prayers are always addressed to the Father, through the Son, with the Spirit; this prayer, however, addresses the Godhead as a unity. Indeed, it is trinitarian to a degree that would gladden Athanasius, but it is far outside the normal structure for these prayers; and like the second and third options, there's no specific mention of the covenant which is at the heart of the rite. One could just as well use these prayers for people simply sharing an apartment. I'm not sure whether the intent here is to offer variations from which the student is expected to pick one, or whether the choice is intended to be incorporated into the final rite; if the latter, we also see the tendency towards variable rites which has expanded since its inception in the 1979 Eucharist.

We then skip over all the readings which I went over in the last installment. Noting that the sermon is not optional, we then move on to the main section of the rite. The elements in this section appear to be ordered after and modelled on those of baptism, at least until we get to the vows. Therefore the presentation is the opening act. Here I need to go back a version. In 1928 we have the familiar "Who giveth this Woman to be married to this Man?", and it is not optional; nor is a response specified. This part goes all the way back to 1662, and it appears in the additional directions of 1979, updated grammatically and with a verbal response. A plural version is also supplied, equally optional. This archaicism is still technically optional in the SSB rite, but it is incorporated into the body of the rite, and in addition to the presentation question itself, a promise to uphold question is added. This is redundant because essentially the same question is about to be asked of everyone in the assembly, following the couple's consent as in the marriage rite. It fits into an overall pattern of multiplication of responses. The consents of the couple, for instance, are broken in two. The husband's promise is one of the most conservative sections of the marriage rite, suffering only minor changes in wording due to modernization of the language; the wife's part is nearly as conservative, having lost the promise to "obey" in the American books. (For some reason, the 1979 rite reverses the traditional order and has the woman consent first, not that this will be relevant to the rite discussed.) In the marriage rite, each spouse promises to engage in the covenant of marriage and to love, comfort, honor and keep the other; and there is also a pledge to be faithful and to forsake all others. The SSB consent also includes the pledge to fidelity, but bereft of the "forsake all others" clause, and none of the other marital promises explicitly appear. Instead one member "freely and unreservedly offer[s] [themselves]" to the other, and promises to live "in faithfulness and holiness". That's pretty vague, and I don't see any reason why any word of the marital version ought to be excluded, save those specifically mentioning marriage.

The consent concludes, as in the marriage rite, with a promise by the witnesses. Here again we have a considerable change where there isn't any obvious reason for it. Marriage and baptism both have a very short and direct promise of support asked at this point; the wording is very similar. It's not very similar to what we have in this rite. First, a second question has been added, asking the witnesses to "pray for them in times of trouble and celebrate with them in times of joy". A bit cutesy, to my taste. What's more interesting is the wording of the first question, which asks the witnesses to "respect the covenant [the couple makes]". It is decidedly strange to insert what is essentially a plea to take the union seriously.

Here we have a rather awkward rubric. In marriage the congregation stands during three chunks: at the beginning up to the first reading, at the gospel, and finally during the prayers and the blessing. Or to put it the other way around, they sit during the readings, the homily, and the vows. People who haven't looked at the baptismal rite recently may be surprised to learn that there are no posture rubrics after the gospel. What typically happens is that the congregation remains seated up to the recitation of the creed, and then sits after the thanksgiving over the water. In the SSB rite, the congregation is to stand at their responses to the consent, and then stands until the end of the Lord's Prayer. Then they sit for the vows, but there are no posture rubrics for the congregation after that. If they followed the pattern for marriage, the congregation would then stand, making for one very short period of sitting; but more likely what will happen, sans direction from the celebrant, is that people will end up sitting through the blessing.

And that brings us to the prayers. In the interest of making this more digestible, I will continue from there in the next post.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Blessing for Study Only II

In this installment I will consider the scripture lessons proposed of the same-sex blessing rite. Recall that one of the innovations of the 1979 marriage rite was the inclusion of a lesson section; the 1928 rite had no provision for this, and the 1662 had a rather tacked-on section at the end which was constructed more along the lines of a homily.

One thing is evident immediately: there are a lot of options. Six OT, eight epistle, and five gospel lessons are offered, and no less than ten psalms may be chosen from. Further investigation shows that there is a degree of overlap with the lessons prescribed for marriage. By contrast, through the SSB rite (as we said in part I) is strongly influenced by the baptismal rite, there is almost nothing shared in the scriptural material; a single epistle reading is shared, and that is all.

I'll begin by considering the psalms. Marriage suggests the use of Psalm 67, 127, or 128. All three of these have some reference to fertility, with 127 and 128 both talking about the having of children as a blessing; it's quite safe to say, however, that verse 3a-- "Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine within your house"-- is why 128 was not suggested for same-sex blessings. Psalm 65 is rather like 67, except longer and less felicitous; it's not obvious why it was added as a selection. Psalms 98, 100, 148 and 149 are generic in their thanksgiving and praise, and again it's not that clear why they should be suggested. They give an air of not being able to come up with something suitable. The excerpt from Psalm 85 perhaps has been chosen for verse 10 ("Mercy and truth have met together;/ righteousness and peace have kissed each other.") It is Psalm 133, however, which seems the most obvious choice:
Oh, how good and pleasant it is,* when brethren live together in unity!
It is like fine oil upon the head* that runs down the beard,
Upon the beard of Aaron,* and runs down the collar of his robe.
It is like the dew of Hermon* that falls upon the hills of Zion.
For there the LORD has ordained the blessing:* life for evermore.
Though perhaps it is less than apt at the union of two women.


I'm afraid the issue of what is appropriate or tasteful or unintentionally humorous is going to keep popping out. For example, the only common OT lesson is that from the Song of Songs, which conjoins two passages, the second of which is the very familiar "Set me as a seal upon thine heart" verses which are most likely the most popular readings at Episcopal weddings. The first, however, is love poetry, pure and simple, emphasizing that this is a sexual relationship we're contemplating. It's abundantly clear why the two Genesis passages didn't make the cut, as they are the foundational scripture for Judaeo-Christian marriage, and they firmly set forth the complementarity of the sexes as marriage's basis. The passage from Tobit is just as problematic, as it cites the Genesis passages to that end. So what do we get to replace these? Well, for starters we have the most famous couplet from Ruth. And it sounds good until you remember that Ruth is saying this to her mother-in-law, which is not exactly what you want in a sexual union. So then we have two versions of readings from 1 Samuel concerning the covenant between David and Jonathan. Here again we have this tension over sexuality. John Boswell was not the only person to impose a homoerotic interpretation on this friendship, but he was the one who really pushed interpreting that into a rite. I'll bravely say, however, that this is all an insertion into the text. The passage from Ecclesiastes is interesting, with its rather neutral "two is better than one" message; the threefold cord of the last line, however, lends itself to unintended mirth. Finally, there is a passage from Micah that makes no sense whatsoever: beating swords into plowshares is all very noble, but I can see nothing in the passage that has anything specific to do with the matter at hand.

When we turn to the epistles, we see that a fair number of the lessons are shared between marriage and SSBs. Yet here we observe a different oddity: nearly all the shared lessons are extended for SSBs. One of the marriage lessons didn't make the cut, and after reading the latter part of Ephesians 5, with its disquisition about wives submitting to husbands, it's easy to see why it went unused; and for that matter, one suspects it is seldom used for Episcopal weddings. The only lesson that was kept without alteration is a passage from Colossians 3, which even in the marriage rite stops short of another "submission" passage; that excised, it's a fairly generic passage about how Christians must live in agape.

As to the other three retained lessons: The reading from 1 Corinthians is the famous "Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels" paean to life in agape, for some reason they have felt the need to prefix this with the end of 12:31: "And I will show you a still more excellent way." This does not strike me as a meaningful improvement, much less one necessitated by the change of context. Another reading from Ephesians, this time in chapter 3, was extended to include the doxology which ends the chapter; again, this does not seems necessary to the sense of the thing. The last of our retained lessons comes from 1 John, in the fourth chapter; in this case they have skipped from verse 16, where the marital lesson ends, to verse 21: "And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also." (KJV: I note that this passage in the NRSV neuters the Greek by translating adelphon as "brothers and sisters"). But this verse is pulled out of context, for it is the answer to the rhetorical question posed in verse 20: "If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?"

Moving on to the new lessons: the Romans passage is sort of a Desiderata of the faith; it's generic but at least manages to fit in philadelphia. The Galatians passage is a puzzle because surely verse 24 is wont to prompt snickers: "And they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts." The other 1 John reading is sort of the little brother to the first: nothing bad about it, but there would seem to be no reason to prefer it over one of the other readings. And finally, we have the reading from 2 Corinthians, which is shared with the baptismal readings. Honestly I have no idea why they included this, as it is plainly most relevant to baptism.

So then we move on to the five gospel readings. The first lesson, from Matthew, is the Beatitudes, and it conflates two of the marital readings. The first marriage passage stops at verse 10 ("Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven"), and the second resumes at verse 13 and continues to verse 16, but SSB stops at verse 14 ("Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid"). Neither of these commends itself as a natural stopping point, because verses 11 and 12 continue the thought of verse 10, and the passage that begins at verse 14 has its conclusion at verse 16: "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven." The other point is that this passage is a prophecy of the kingdom, not so much an instruction of how to live; it's not that clear why it's an option for marriage, much less SSBs. On the other hand, as a marital passage which doesn't mention matrimony, it is I suppose an obvious candidate to be retained.

Marriage offers a third Matthew reading, one that is a bit puzzling and which SSBs chose not to use: the parable of the house built on rock. I suppose the analogy is of the house to the marriage, but it's a bit thin. Other than that there's no obvious reason why this reading couldn't have been retained.

It's obvious, though, why the passage from Mark wasn't retained: it refers directly back into Genesis 2. But it is far from clear why a section of the sermon of the plain from Luke 6 was added.

Moving on to John: the reading from the final discourse is retained and, once again, lengthened. In the marriage rite it ends at verse 12: "This is my commandment, that ye love one another, as I have loved you." But now it continues on for five more verses, including Jesus telling the disciples that he now calls the not servants, but friends. Once again I do not see the added value of the longer reading, nor do I see in being somehow more relevant to this context than to marriage.

A second reading from John is taken from the final prayer, particularly the section in which Jesus prays for the unity of the disciples in love. Now it think most people would read this as a prayer for the unity of the church, for it speaks of love within and encompassing the whole.

So if you've made it this far, you may have noticed a threefold pattern. Any passage that explicitly refers to marriage has been scrupulously avoided, because all of them set marriage in the context of the Genesis complementarity of the sexes. In the epistles and the gospels, this has meant use of passages which talk about love in a general way, or even talk about Christian life in very general terms. In the Old Testament, certain passages on specific friendship or kinship relationships are appealed to, but the interpretation needed to make these passages relevant is either a distortion of the text (Ruth, and to a lesser degree, the Song of Songs and Ecclesiastes) or hotly contested (1 Samuel). The liturgists have run up against a very real problem: not only is there no scriptural warrant for what they want to do, but every passage that justifies a sexual relationship presupposes a marriage between a man and a woman.

Friday, March 09, 2012

Blessing for Study Only I

Our friends at the SCLM have put out some same sex blessing materials, including a sample/proposed rite. I'm not really interested in discussing the supporting material here, if for no other reasons than (a) it's too big a chunk to bite off at once, and (b) I'm not up to moderating a comments-based discussion of whatever I may have to say. The sample rite, however, cries out for analysis. This I intend to carry out in three parts: the first, which you read here, will talk about the structure of the rite, while the second will discuss the scripture selections and the third the detailed wording of some passages.

I begin with some overall observations. It is possible to perform this rite without saying anything in common with the marriage rite, save the Lord's Prayer. Every single other passage either differs from its marital parallel, or provides for an alternative which the 1979 rites do not countenance. The latter is largely accounted for by the continuance of the anti-dominical heresies found in almost every new liturgy promulgated in the past decade or so: in every case where the word "Lord" would ordinarily be used, an alternative is provided which omits it, the only exception being in the litany. The converse of this is that nearly every element of the marriage rite is included, with one telling exception which I will discuss at the end.

While most elements of the marital rite are included, the order of those elements is quite different. Comparison of the 1662, 1928, and 1979 rites discloses a common structure which anyone who has watched a movie marriage scene will recognize. The core rite begins with a greeting which connects the rite of marriage with the union between Christ and the church. Then follows a charge to disclose impediments, the making of promises, the presentation of the bride (optional in 1979), the vows and the exchange of rings. The final part of the rite consists of a prayer in the form of a blessing, the proclamation of the wedding, and the blessing proper; this section varies somewhat in order. The 1928 version contains these elements alone; the 1662 and 1979 rites append a statement of the purposes of marriage to the greeting, and 1662 has a series of readings following the core rite as a kind of scriptural homily. All of these rites provide for following the rite with communion, though as is common with older books the exact way this is to be done is not spelled out.

The 1979 version incorporates two innovations. The first is the inclusion of a series of prayers between the proclamation and the blessing, preceding the old blessing prayer. This is constructed in the style of older books but in fact lacks any precedent. The other innovation is a restoration of the lessons dropped in the 1928 version. The 1979 addition is in the absolutely stereotyped form common to all modern ECUSA sacramental rites: it begins with a collect and is followed by a series of readings, separated by psalms and anthems, and ending with a homily (made optional). Also per 1979 practice the lectionary provides for an OT lesson, an epistle, and a gospel reading, the latter presented as if for a eucharistic rite. This is all inserted after the promises and presentation, so that the core rite resumes with the vows; again as is standard for 1979, the rite ends with the peace, which is the suture line for joining this to the communion rite. This overall pattern is also found to a degree in the ordinal rites: the entrance rites for the latter also incorporate the section of promises and such before the collect.

The SSB rite, however, is constructed on the basis of the baptismal rite, not the marital rite; the elements of the latter are rearranged to match the corresponding element of baptism. Therefore the SSB rite begins with the conventional seasonal opening sentences, followed by a versicle and response section and the greeting. It then proceeds directly to the collect, skipping all the charge and promise section which in the marital rites precedes the collect. The next section follows the ECUSA lesson/psalm/gospel/sermon stereotyped plan, and then the rite proper resumes. Again, the order of the elements reflects that of baptism, beginning with the (optional) presentation, followed by the promises. The prayers are in the form of a litany, and they precede the vows; the Lord's Prayer is dropped in after the litany. The rings follow the vows immediately, per convention, and then the proclamation; then the rite continues with the blessing prayer and blessing proper, and as with everything ECUSAn, ends at the peace. This mirrors the baptismal order, in which the litany precedes the sacramental act.

And indeed, the references to the baptismal rite are constant in the theological discussion preceding the sample rite. I do not want to step up to discussing how well-founded this connection is; the fact remains that this is really the matrimonial rite recast in the shape of the baptismal rite. But that brings us to the two omissions from the 1979 marriage rite. Recall that the it begins with the greeting, a statement of the purposes of marriage, a charge to take marriage seriously and to reveal impediments, and the promises and presentation. Well, the SSB rite skips directly from the greeting to the collect, with the promises and presentation, as I said earlier, moved to follow the sermon and swapped in order. The other elements are simply dropped: there is no statement of purpose for the relationship blessed by this rite, and the charge is also entirely eliminated. I have no idea why the latter is missing, and the omission is odd considering that the vows contain the "forsaking all others" pledge on which the charge is predicated. the omission of the purpose statement is more telling. Perhaps one can construct an analogy of baptism with marriage, which is the consequence of their argument; but the fact remains that one can construct from scripture a rationale for marriage that makes no reference to baptism. Marriage indeed precedes and perhaps can be said to prefigure every other rite save the offering of sacrifice. This leaves the SSB rite in something of a paradox: it's constructed out of the parts of marriage, but in the way that it specifically appeals to anything else except marriage for a justification, the fact that it doesn't have the explicit warrant afforded to marriage is emphasized.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

The Covenant: is it dead yet?

This bishop wants all of us to sign on to the proposed Anglican Covenant:

One really doesn't want to discourage him, but things aren't going too well for it. As usual, the folks at the Episcopal Cafe are all lining up to denounce it, and while they are at it, Rowan Williams for daring to suggest the thing in the first place. They even have a special guest appearance from Louie Crew, while Tobias Haller has devoted seven out of his last nine blog posts to discussing/denouncing it.

It doesn't get that much more support from the other end of the church-political spectrum (though anyone calling Williams "the Archdruid" has utterly squandered their moral credibility, at least as far as I'm concerned). The only people who seem to support it are a group of stubborn moderates-to-conservatives.

What dooms the covenant is that the sin has already been committed. The Americans press upon the communion as a whole their internal solution to these theological disputes: the progressives present a fait accompli, and everyone else is put in the position of having to either welcome the repudiation of the past, try to live with the unacceptable, or make some sort of break, the latter then being characterized as the only real sin in the matter. But simply as a reaction, I would not call it sin at all. In a sense all the covenant does is put the organization in the position of supporting the resisters instead of the radicals. And that's not going to fly because (a) the Church of England has lots of bishoprics who want to be numbered among the welcomers to the various innovations, (b) everyone in ECUSA understands that the existing pressure we exert on the communion is gong to be the first target of the "disciplinary" provisions in section 4, and (c) nobody in ECUSA cares about keeping the conservative provinces in the communion.

ECUSA's leadership is hopelessly disfunctional anyway. Here we are, looking at a proposed budget which is almost impossible to amend at GC, and even the liberals can see that defunding youth ministry in favor of the central offices is dumb. Meanwhile the state of Virginia is giving the separatist buildings back to the ECUSA diocese, which I am reasonably sure will not be able to keep them all open. And presumably GC will approve same sex marriages this summer, so as not to embarrass the bishops of Maryland and Washington when they permit those rites to go forward in January at the behest of the state.

After that, what is there left to do? Assuming that the Occupy movement lasts that long, no doubt there will be many in the hierarchy urging us to speed it on, and never mind that our church depends on all those upper middle incomes not just for money, but for our social milieu. They will urge us on in the battle against climate change, thought really there isn't a lot the church can do in this. And that is fortunate for it, as again in this one we are mostly the enemy whom we are to combat. Increasingly there is little reason to stay Anglican except as Anglicanism is defended from, well, itself; my church increasingly offers little in the way of religion, and as for the rest, the heathen do as much.