March 24, 2017

On Originalism

Originalism is a useful tool in determining authorial intent, but apart from that it is self-defeating as a legal philosophy. To understand the intent of the framers of a document by examining the original meaning of the words they used in the context in which they wrote is so obvious as scarcely to need defense. To give a trivial example, if you want to understand a first century BC text in Latin you had best begin by realizing that first-century BC Latin is neither fourth-century BC Greek nor twenty-first-century English, and the cultural contexts of these different languages also play a role in any attempt at discerning what, for instance, Julius Caesar was writing about. Just because the US Constitution is written in English doesn't mean any of the words have the same meaning they do today. I can guarantee that not one of the authors intended "arms" to mean "snub-nose revolvers" or "tactical nuclear weapons" when asserting a right not to be infringed by the state.

So originalism has its purpose as a hermeneutic tool. But it is less helpful — perhaps disastrous — when it is raised to the level of a philosophy, or worse, ideology. The notion that the Constitution should be set in 18th-century stone, and be inapplicable to later circumstances is belied by the fact that the document provides for its own amendment. The framers were intelligent men, aware of the fact that language changes, as do the times. To suspect they regarded their words as inviolable and unalterable, fixed in meaning and application only to what they intended, is to attribute an almost sacral quality to the Constitution, which is nothing short of idolatrous. I will confess I imagine that even some of the authors of Scripture itself would be shocked to think people of a later time would regard what they intended as topical advice to be unalterable divine mandate for all time. How much less would the men of Enlightenment America regard their efforts to be immutable and fixed for all time?

So go to the sources, read the contemporary commentary, study the lexicons and dictionaries by all means. But remember these are but the starting points for understanding and application. If the Constitution is to live — let it live. Do not suffocate it in the bonds of originalism's lack of imagination and understanding.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

March 22, 2017

But for Wales...?

The election of a new bishop to serve the Welsh Diocese of Llandaff has created a good deal of storm and strife. The electing convention failed to elect by the necessary 2/3 majority, and so the choice devolved to the five bishops to take up the task. Among other things, they stated that they chose "not to give further consideration to any candidate nominated at the Electoral College in order not to compromise the integrity of the College process."

Among those nominated was Dean Jeffrey John of St Albans. If you don't know who he is, you can stop reading now. If you know, you will recognize the significance of his nomination. Beyond that nomination, he received (so it has been reported, though much of this was to be confidential) unanimous support from the Diocese of Llandaff itself, and a majority of all the other required votes, but less than the 2/3 required for election.

Now, I can well understand the rationale the bishops embraced in their most recent action; it might well be true, all other things being equal, that to consider any of the candidates who failed in the earlier round would be to second-guess the process, or perhaps cobble the future ministry of anyone so nominated who was approved on the second go. Indeed it might be seen as quite irregular to award the seat to one who failed to win it by the normal process.

But all other things are not equal. Dean John has a past, one that includes several quite irregular twists and turns towards an episcopal seat. Secondary considerations and "concerns," such as are raised in other parts of the Anglican Communion, have reared their heads. And there is a very slight difference between "concern" and "fear of consequences" — and "fear" is English for phobia — and I think you know which phobia this seems to be.

It is a mess, without a doubt, and will get messier before it gets clearer.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

The title is part of a quote from Man for All Seasons when More chides Rich for his betrayal: "It profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world ... but for Wales, Richard?"

February 21, 2017

As Jesus Did

The church could do worse than follow Jesus. He said adultery was wrong, and expanded the definition even to include lustful eyes — but when faced with an actual adulterer he critiqued her accusers and sent her on her way forgiven. He taught chastity — but when the woman of the streets broke into the banquet and poured out her tears and perfume doubly to anoint him, declared the redemptive quality of her love. So I say to the church today: teach what you will, but bear in mind that your teaching is not the heart of your mission, but forgiveness and love.

—Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

January 30, 2017

Prongs and Rings

Heterosexuality, under a dominant male view, is about penetration. Thus it maps well to things like electrical plugs and sockets, male and female.

Marriage, however, is about permanence and fidelity, suitably imaged by unending rings, and mapped to things as diverse as religious profession by a nun and the union between Christ and his Body, the church.
Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

January 19, 2017

Wedding Preparation

Very happy to see my latest work for Church Publishing off the press, and delighted to see the kind words about it on the back cover.

"Kudos to liturgical scholar Tobias Haller for crafting this comprehensive guide to marriage in the Episcopal Church, based on canonical and liturgical changes authorized by the 2015 General Convention and presented in an easy-to-use format, for clergy, church musicians, and couples. Great to have this information all in one resource!"
-The Right Reverend Thomas C. Ely, Bishop of Vermont

"Preparing for a Wedding in the Episcopal Church is an invaluable resource for any Episcopalian involved in wedding planning and preparation. It thoroughly and concisely explores everything from balancing the sacred and secular to navigating liturgical options to managing photographers and florists. Firmly rooted in solid theology and liturgical practice, it is a timely and practical guide:'
- The Reverend Susan Russell, Senior Associate at All Saints Episcopal Church, Pasadena, California

"Here is a very practical, thorough, and theologically sound guide for clergy, couples, and church musicians on marriage in the Episcopal Church. The church's canon on marriage was updated most recently in 2015, and Tobias walks us through the changes and implications for planning, offering practical advice and guidance to assist all those involved."
- Carolyn Moomaw Chilton, Associate for Evangelism and Stewardship, Grace and Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, Richmond, Virginia

"Every parish priest should have this resource, which will help them become familiar with the marriage canon and marriage liturgies authorized in 2015. Tobias Haller offers wise pastoral guidance. Drawing from his years of experience, he explores the many options and recommends sound liturgical and pastoral practices."
- The Reverend Dr. Ruth Meyers, Dean of Academic Affairs and Hodges-Haynes Professor of Liturgics at Church Divinity School of the Pacific

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

Timely Thoughts

Early this morning I woke with some images and thoughts running through my mind. 

The future does not exist except as potentiality.
The arrow of time is connected with the expansion of space-time — we do not move "into" an existing future any more than the universe expands "into" a presently empty space — it is space-time itself that is expanding, and this drives the arrow of time.
Experience (the present and past) is the collapse of potentiality into actuality.

That's enough for now. My brain hurts.


December 16, 2016

The nature of the/our church

In a recent interview, Bishop Josiah Idowu-Fearon revives interest in the Anglican Covenant. This proposal has only found favor among the minority who would like to see the Anglican Communion more tightly organized into a conciliar body, rather than continuing to be a loosely affiliated grouping of national churches sharing a common heritage but no central governance.

What I don't understand is why those who want to be part of a communion not based on independent national churches don't affiliate with the church that the Church of England left when it decided being an independent national church was of crucial importance. To claim — as do some who favor the Anglican Covenant — that the idea of “national church” is un-Anglican is to rob “Anglican” of any relevant meaning.

And if one believes conciliarity is of the esse of the church, to continue as a member of a non-conciliatory body is to be outside the church.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

December 4, 2016

Child's Play

Church of the Advent Baltimore • Advent 2a • Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.
Advent is the season of the church year in which we prepare our minds and hearts for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, not only the yearly commemoration of his coming as a newborn infant to the stable in Bethlehem, but in watchful preparation for the as yet to be realized coming in glory at the end of time, when he will judge the living and the dead in perfect righteousness. So we find ourselves, in Advent, perhaps especially in the Church of the Advent, somewhat torn between two images: the sweet Christ Child in the manger, and the transfigured, majestic figure of the everlasting Judge and King, whose coming is foretold by the wild prophet John the Baptist.

On this Sunday the two images come together. in the prophet Isaiah’s words. The prophet describes the peaceable kingdom, his vision of God’s just and righteous reign. And at first the vision of the one who shall come forth from the root of Jesse sounds like the same mighty judge John the Baptist promises. Here is one upon whom the Spirit rests, who is full of wisdom and understanding, counsel and might, knowledge and fear of the Lord. Here is one who shall judge with righteousness and equity, whose very voice strikes the earth like a rod, whose breath slays the wicked.

But then the imagery shifts. Suddenly all is peaceful: wild beasts of forest and field no longer prey on the domesticated animals of pasture and barnyard, but graze and nestle beside them. The two worlds, wild and domestic, come together in peace. And, wonder of wonders, all this harmony is orchestrated, brought about and led not by an army of lion-tamers with pistols and whips, or a crowd of Australian alligator wrestlers with cages and anesthetic darts, but by a little child. Even more surprising, infants young enough still to be nursing, and others just starting on solid food, can play with snakes in perfect safety, the archetype of human enmity with the natural world from our infancy in the Garden of Eden — the serpent — has lost it’s poison, and has become a plaything for the children of Adam and Eve. This peaceful lordship that turns the curse of Adam on its head, this peaceable kingdom established on God’s holy mountain is, simply put, child’s play.
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Now, this is not frivolous talk. Few things are more serious than child’s play. I really mean that. Have you ever watched children playing? Children take their play very seriously, and the more deeply involved in play they are, the more intense their concentration. Where else but in play do you see actual wrinkles form on the foreheads of children? Where else but in play do you see little tongues appear at the edges of tiny mouths, as tiny hands struggle to color within the lines, to make a puzzle come out just right, for a doll’s hair be styled in high fashion, or a plastic peg hammered down just so with a plastic hammer into a plastic hole? No, children at play are quite intent on their playing!

Children in a snowball fight are as focused on their battle as any general. And I dare not even mention the intensity of a child apparently glued to a PlayStation! And a five-year-old hosting a tea party for dolls and teddy bears will — should you be honored with an invitation to such an event — enforce upon you a protocol and etiquette as rigorous as a state banquet. The Cabbage Patch twins must always be served first, in recognition of their youth, while Barbie, being a mature young lady, is expected to be patient, and Pooh Bear has to be watched lest he sneak a cookie before the proper time. As you balance the tiny saucer and minuscule teacup, savoring the invisible tea and make-believe cake, you are apt to marvel at the child’s knowledge of etiquette, and stern resolve to enforce it.

Yes, the prophet was right in describing the kingdom of God as child’s play, for child’s play is not frivolous. It is just that we tend to forget this as we grow older. As we age out of the pure, clear world of childhood, we are apt to begin making compromises, to accept less than what we know is right, to move from the clarity of the black and white into those shades of grey. And we tend to see this as maturity. We gain peace at the cost of principle. We become judicious; we weigh profit and loss ratios, and we deal and we compromise. And we settle. And how often do we end up with far less than justice and righteousness for the sake of an imaginary peace — a peace that turns out not to be peace at all.
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But the judge eternal described by Isaiah, comes upon us with the ferocious intensity of a child: a single-minded child who can look straight through our adult compromises to the burning truth of our failures. He does not judge by what he sees or hears, this eternal judge whose coming we await. What? A judge who pays no attention to evidence? What kind of justice is that? Who wants a trial before a judge who passes sentence before he hears our excuses and our explanations and our rationalizations?

But my friends, this is the justice of a child, of the child. The child who knows what’s fair and what’s not, and from whose ringing sentence, “It isn’t fair!” there is no appeal. The child who knows when her parents have been arguing, however much they try to pretend it’s all O.K. for her sake. The child knows when he’s being lied to, however good our intentions, and his piercing eyes see through us as if we were so much cellophane. The child who knows the rules for snowball fights and tea-parties, and dispenses the firm justice of the playground. The child who knows how to tame animals more real than the ones of flesh and blood, the animals of the playroom, where Pooh Bear and the Lion King take tea together, and a dinosaur eats cookies from a plate. And all the while, the child oversees this feast with serious attention, and a sense of what is fair and right that puts any adult tribunal to shame.
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This is what the Justice and Lordship of Jesus is like, the just, clear, focused reign of the Son of God. Under the watchful eye of this child who comes forth from the root of Jesse, all our excuses and compromises and rationalizations are laid bare. All of our efforts to bend the rules are exposed. All of our lording it over one another, preying on each other like wolves and bears and lions, is shown up for what it is.

But the good news is that this Child of God who comes to judge us is merciful as well as just. Though he sees right through us, perhaps because he sees right through us, he will also save us, for though he sees how shallow we are he knows we are worth saving. And his loving justice can begin to transform us, and redeem our corrupted nature as surely as it undoes the curse of Adam. The old curse is done away with, transforming serpents into playthings, undoing the ancient enmity and antagonism between the wild and the domestic. Under the miraculous rule of this divine child-king even our own rough nature is transformed, our rough coats of wolf-grey fur, soften and turn to plush. Our shaggy lions’ manes are trimmed and turn bright gold, festive with bows and ribbons. Our leopard spots turn into polka-dots. Rough grizzly bears grow plump and soft and dip their blunted claws into a jar plainly labeled H-U-N-Y. And all of us together gather around the tea-table, colorful bows around our necks and ribbons in our hair, as the Child pours us our tea, and feeds us cakes, and we partake of the sacrament of peace — coming to God’s kingdom, at long last, precisely and exactly as he said we would have to come: as children.

May we then, dear sisters and brothers in Christ, be ready to enter the heavenly child’s-play of the this miracle child, the just and righteous rule of the Son of God, whose infant hands possess all might, majesty, power and dominion, henceforth and forever more.

November 23, 2016

Tectonic Shift or Slip of the Tongue?

The Secretary-General of the Church of England has just issued a clear response to the  syllabus of accusations raised by GAFCON that the said Church has "violated" the provisions of Resolution 1.10 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference.

I'm very pleased to see one particular affirmation in the letter: "clergy and laity alike are entitled to argue for changes to teaching and practice." Those with sufficiently long memories will recall that the principal reason for denying the episcopate to Jeffrey John was not the fact of his living in a civil partnership (which was within the bounds set) but the fact that he was advocating for something contrary to the teaching of the church.

It would appear that this "raison de ne pas être" has reached its sell-by date. It also indicates that same-sexuality need not be regarded as a first-order doctrinal issue, or a part of the permanent deposit of the faith.

UPDATE: GAFCON UK has responded to William Nye. The rejoinder continues the trend noted above to raise marriage to the status of a "core doctrine" — this time explicitly. And there you have the nub of the problem: GAFCON and its fellows believe and claim marriage to be a central doctrine of the Christian faith, about which there is one and only one orthodox position.

Obviously, as any reasonable review of Scripture and the Tradition show, this assertion is not true, since Scripture itself and the Tradition (both within Anglicanism and outside it) offer mixed testimony concerning the nature of marriage itself, and provide no evidence for a continuous place for marriage as a central doctrine. Marriage has rarely found a place as more than peripheral in dogmatic theology, if it is mentioned at all.

A further UPDATE: Stephen Noll has issued yet another response to Nye's letter. This is a particularly absurd example of revisionist history. It contains the astounding statement, "These [Lambeth] Resolutions, read together, form a fairly harmonious tradition." I suppose to give him benefit of the doubt his definition of fairly might differ to mine. But to pretend that Lambeth has consistency on matters of "family life" is an absurdity. Instead, the Lambeth resolutions explicitly rescind, overturn, or contradict each other on things such as birth control, polygamy, and remarriage after divorce.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

November 21, 2016

Thought for 11-21-16

If I hate someone, the hate is mine, my emotion, my feeling. I should not say I hate someone because they are hateful. It is I who am full of hate. It is mine to conquer or be conquered by.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

October 17, 2016

Fulcrum says it all

English author Andrew Goddard, at the aptly named blog, “Fulcrum,” has published a long essay on why he thinks a pastoral accommodation for same-sex couples in the Church of England cannot work.

It strikes me that Goddard’s arguments, particularly in the detailed section on how the church has come both to change its teaching and to make pastoral accommodation concerning remarriage after divorce, demonstrate a willingness to read texts (both liturgical and biblical) in the broadest and most flexible sense possible when applied to such changes and accommodations. Goddard does not show the same flexibility and generosity in his reading of texts concerning same-sexuality, and pastoral accommodation for same-sex couples who take advantage of the civil law to marry. So it appears to me that his inability to see a possibility for accommodation in the latter case is based in part on an unwillingness to weigh the evidence equally on both sides, but to excuse (if not condone) on one side rather than the other.

The reason I suggest that “Fulcrum” is an apt name and forum for his thinking is that a fulcrum — unlike a scale as held in the hands of Justice — is inherently unequal. It is designed to allow a small amount of pressure to accomplish a great deal of work; or, as in this case, for a weak and unbalanced argument to hold sway and persuade a multitude. In spite of my concern for those who “make the ephah small and the shekel great” (Amos 8:5) and those who trouble themselves over gnats while gulping camels, I do not think that Goddard’s arguments will carry much weight outside his own circle. I remain alert, however, to the nature of the fulcrum: to allow small weights to do big things.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

September 19, 2016

Off Center

It continues to surprise and bemuse me to see Christian authors (particularly Anglicans and Roman Catholics) these days writing about marriage as somehow the central doctrine of the Christian faith. For example, one author defends a notion that "The biblical narrative, ...locates marriage at the centre of the history of a good creation, a creation gone awry, and God’s redeeming action; to this narrative, further, sexual difference is essential."

Of course, Scripture does no such thing. The author in question has fallen into the fallacy of averages — that is, while Genesis clearly places sex (and as traditionally understood, marriage) at the beginning of creation, and Revelation reveals the marriage of the Lamb and the New Jerusalem at the other end of time, there is precious little about marriage in the center. Nor does the beginning stress sexual difference, as I have written before (Genesis 1 is about the first human couple and their likeness to God; and Genesis 2 is about the likeness of the couple to each other, not their difference.)

Moreover, it is obviously completely wrong to suggest that marriage is at the heart of redemption, given the Christian witness of the New Testament. Consider these facts:

  • The Redeemer himself comes into the world not through an ordinary marriage involving sexual difference, but a miraculous birth without any sexual intercourse at all, and a putative marriage that under Jewish Law would have been considered adulterous had the source of the Virgin's pregnancy been heterosexual sex. (Matthew 1:18f)
  • When pressed on the issue, Jesus declares that marriage is wholly a matter of this world, and that those worthy of attaining to the resurrection do not marry. (Luke 20:34f)
  • Paul holds marriage to be inferior to celibacy, but allows it for those incapable of containing themselves. (1 Corinthians 7:8-9)
  • He also affirms that sexual difference (the "male and female" of Genesis 1) has been transcended in Christ, in whom all difference is dissolved. (Galatian 3:28)

If we look at the Christian tradition, it is obvious that the main stream of thinking on marriage is that it was good and useful, but hardly essential to the Christian life and faith. From the traditional Roman Catholic view that marriage was inferior to celibacy, through the views of the Reformers that it was "allowed" (Anglican) or "a matter for the town hall" (Lutheran) marriage was peripheral to dogmatic thinking until about the middle of the 20th century, when some Roman and Reformed theologians began to try to elevate it to a more central place — largely in reaction to societal pressure involving increasing divorce rates and contraception use. Some, such as Pannenberg, went quite off the deep end (in addition to jettisoning central Christian dogma such as the Virgin Birth) in an effort to drag marriage into the spotlight. It is helpful to observe that if marriage and sexual difference is part of the creation — a creature — then it is good to recall that putting the creature in place of the creator is exactly what Romans 1 said was the problem, not the solution.

It is, of course, good to continue the discussion of marriage and sexuality and their place in the church, but let us have no more nonsense about their being central to the Christian faith, or Christian theology. The center of the Christian faith is Christ, and him crucified.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

August 20, 2016

Lost Youth

Some people involved in crafting liturgy find it difficult to accept that they are no longer young. They seek to attract the youth of today by means of the things that attracted them in their own youth. This rarely works well since few things are less attractive to the young than the fashions of their parents' youth; better to aim for the great-grandparents, as fashion tends to skip several generations before it become fashionable again. Besides which, the whole enterprise becomes a too mercantile approach to evangelism. It is not so much the church's task to give people what they want, but to equip them with what they need — not to please themselves, but to serve others. Temple said it best, that the church exists primarily for the good of those not yet its members. “Do that, and you — and the church — will live.”

—expanded from his now lost comment on Facebook about so-called contemporary worship music, most of which dates from before the intended “audience” was born, by Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG