November 23, 2005

The Anglican Triad

Anglicans are familiar with the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral: the statement of four doctrinal and ecclesiological principles that chart out the boundaries for dialogue between churches wishing to join in closer common purpose and mission. The Quadrilateral thus describes the essentials, from an Anglican perspective, for church union or reunion.

I would like to suggest that alongside the familiar Quadrilateral we consider another structure that for want of a better term I will call the Anglican Triad (with apologies to those who use this term for what is often known, incorrectly, as “Hooker’s Three-Legged Stool.”) This Triad consists of three elements which are particularly characteristic of Anglicanism — not necessarily unique to to it, but together constituting a unity which I fear is at present very much under assault.

For shorthand I will call these three elements Humility, Provinciality, and Variety. They stand in the via media between Humiliation, Provincialism, and Chaos at one extreme, and Pride, Centralism and Uniformity at the other. All three are well attested in foundational documents of Anglicanism (The Articles of Religion, the Prefaces to the English and American Books of Common Prayer) and in the work of those who first focused the Anglican vision, such as Richard Hooker. I’ll limit my citations here to the Articles themselves, by number.

1. Humility: “The church... hath erred.” (19,21)

The admission that the church makes mistakes is profoundly revealing of the nature of the church as we understand it. It reflects the Pauline judgment that “our knowledge is partial”; and it asserts an attitude of faith and hope — and one hopes, love — rather than of certainty and judgment. This admission of uncertainty renders all but the most fundamental dogmatic matters to some extent provisional. It has been called by the rather high-falutin’ title “epistemic humility,” but I think that plain old humility says it just as well. Understood in this way, Humility is not a weakness, but a strength. It stands between abject humiliation and overweening pride.

This acknowledgment that the church makes mistakes is followed by a corollary: mistakes can (and should) be corrected. The church is not trapped within an immutable legal structure such as that attributed to the Medes and Persians. This is why Anglicanism can embrace and advance the development of doctrine and moral theology. This does not mean that every development will necessarily be correct — as the principle notes, the church makes mistakes. But the ability to admit to mistakes is the first step in correcting them. (Those familiar with 12-Step programs will at this point I hope recognize a resonance with the Serenity Prayer. It is very easy for the church to become addicted to the need to control, especially to control others through the claim of unassailable infallibility of judgment — to which Humility is a counterpoise and corrective.)

Humility stands as a meek (which does not mean “weak”) witness against domination by so-called consensus. As the Articles testify, since individual human beings may err, there is no guarantee that an assembly of such errant beings will not also err. (21) Humility points out that even an overwhelming consensus can be quite profoundly mistaken — Galileo can testify to that! So consensus by itself cannot form a term in an argument when a given proposition is being reexamined: this is simply a form of begging the question. Consensus, after all, means a “common mind with little or no opposition” — so the moment opposition appears, consensus ceases to exist, and the new proposal must be examined on its merits against the possible errancy of the formerly unchallenged position. (This is, by the way, why Hooker rejected tradition as an authority in and of itself.)

Anglicanism thus humbly rejects concepts of inerrancy and infallibility; even the Scripture itself is “sufficient” for the end for which it was intended: salvation (6). Human understanding, even of the Scripture, is fallible, and subject to a constant review as the church bears its responsibility as the “keeper of Holy Writ.” (19)

Humility also stands as a warning against the tendency to adopt unanimous statements for the purpose of apparent unity, in spite of serious disagreement with one or more parts of the adopted document. This sort of curate’s-eggery produces the appearance of agreement that cloaks underlying division. Better humbly to acknowledge the division, as the collect for the feast of Richard Hooker puts it, seeking comprehension for the sake of truth instead of compromise for the sake of peace. For as solutions such as Lambeth 1998.1.10 and the Primates’ Communiqué from Dromantine show us, such peace will be no peace.

2. Provinciality: “The Bishop of Rome hath no jurisdiction in this Realm of England.” (37)

Few things could be clearer than that the Church of England reasserted its ecclesiastical independence from Rome at the Reformation. It thought itself competent to do this, and believed it was returning to an ancient principle that had been more successfully preserved among the Eastern churches than it had in the West: the basic unit of the church is the national church or province. (It is sometimes suggested that the diocese is the basic unit of the church; however, a diocese cannot be self-sustaining in terms of the episcopate, and requires the participation of the bishops from other dioceses in order to maintain its existence. The diocese is an organ in the body of the province, and cannot subsist on its own.)

In Anglicanism Provinciality is expressed through provincial autonomy. Now, autonomy has gotten a bad name in some circles recently. It does not mean being able to do anything one likes. True autonomy should be understood in terms of the rights, powers and responsibilities exercised within and for a national church in terms of its ability to govern itself. It relates to the concept of subsidiarity: things should be done at the lowest level at which they can be accomplished. Thus priests are ordained by the diocese for the parishes; bishops by the province for the dioceses.

Provinciality is tempered by Humility, in that while each province asserts that it is fully the church, yet it does not assert itself as the only church. Rather than a “Branch” theory, this represents a more holographic understanding of the nature of the church’s fullness: it is complete within each province, as Christ is fully present in every eucharistic celebration, and in each fragment of the broken Bread. The external divisions between Christian churches constitute a scandal in that they impede the mission and work of Christ, and a failure to recognize that we do indeed share one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism; but it is not necessary that a single world-church institutional structure take the place of a fellowship of independent and self-governing provinces. Instead of a human-instituted system of authoritative government, the provinces are called to a work of service and mission, in the recognition that the church is already “One” through its faithful response to the dominical command to baptize all nations. It is to be hoped that all Christians may one day recognize this baptismal unity, and remove the various obstacles they have set in place that prevent our sharing in the one Bread at one Table. This unity in the two dominical Sacraments forms an essential element of the Quadrilateral.

Humility and Provinciality taken together reveal the process by which development is both possible and limited within the Anglican Communion. Newman believed that development of doctrine could only take place under the watchful eye of the Bishop of Rome — and this in spite of Rome’s demonstrable errors! Anglicanism broadens the scope for the source of correctives to the whole communion, the various national churches and provinces themselves being the determiners of what and how things are to change or remain the same: each determining for itself those matters that concern it. If I can offer an analogy: the Roman Catholic Magisterium is like a boarding house where you eat what is set before you or go hungry; the Anglican approach is more like a restaurant with a finite but various menu from which to choose; and the fact that I like mushrooms and you like asparagus should not keep us from eating at the same table.

Provinciality means that changes and developments may be made within a province that have no direct effect upon the governance of any other province. One example of this was the decision of the Episcopal Church to move forward with the ordination of women to the episcopate. No other province was forced to recognize or approve this decision, and it had no impact upon the governance, rights, privileges, or responsibilities of any other province. As time passed, other provinces chose to adopt — or not adopt — this innovation: this is the process of reception, and it is not complete even now: there is at present no Anglican consensus on the rightness (or wrongness) of the ordination of women to the episcopate. In the meantime any difficulties that arise — such as the inability to license a visiting woman bishop to function as such in a province that does not ordain women to the episcopate, or to license or transfer clergy ordained by a woman bishop — are readily dealt with by the canonical provisions already in place within all of the provinces; it is a matter of record keeping that need engender no ill will or severance of communion, and the evocation of Gamaliel’s advice to the Council can avoid excessive friction.

The principle, What touches all shall be decided by all, upon which I’ve reflected elsewhere, comes to play under the rubric of Provinciality. “Touches” does not mean, “having an opinion about” or “creating a situation which might lead to difficulties with a third party.” The legal principle, as Althusius pointed out, is about rights, privileges and authorities of each province that can only be restricted by each province’s individual consent. Thus, Lambeth 1998.1.10.e would be seen as overstepping its bounds if it were worded as more than the advisory that it is, since it would place a restriction on the right of provinces to ordain and bless whom they choose — and these are rights pertaining to each province that must be explicitly foregone by each, and which cannot be takenaway even by all of the other provinces combined. All, save even one, is not all.

Provinciality thus provides a balance and a means to implement development in conjunction with Humility: it allows innovations to be tested locally before anyone considers implementing them globally. This is, of course, how the church has generally functioned through the ages. One could note, for example, that the adoption of vernacular liturgy by various national churches at the Reformation finally after several centuries had impact upon the very Roman Catholic Church that so bitterly opposed the development. Going further back in history, the emergence of the Gentile church began in isolated communities, and it took some while — even after the conference of the Apostles in Jerusalem — for the church more widely to accept this innovation. After the collapse of an old consensus due to the action of the church in one place or a few places, a significant period of reception will be necessary before a new consensus is established. Ultimately, this movement from particular to universal is reflective of the Incarnation itself.

3. Variety: “Every particular or national Church hath authority to ordain, change, and abolish Ceremonies or Rites of the Church ordained only by man’s authority.” (36)

It must be admitted that Anglicanism has always experienced tension between uniformity and variety; however as another example of the importance of Provinciality, this citation from the Articles demonstrates (and a reading of the Preface to the 1549 Book of Common Prayer will support) that the concern is for uniformity within a national church, and permitted variety among them.

The matters currently causing distress in the communion concern rites and ceremonies: in particular ordination and marriage, neither of which “have any visible sign or ceremony ordained of God” (25), and so appear to fall within the rubric of permitted change. It will quickly be pointed out, however, that the limit on Variety in this regard is established by “God’s Word written” (20,36)— and some contend that the present innovations have crossed that boundary.

The question is, Who is to make that determination if not the national church? If the rites and ceremonies in question concern only a given province and its governance — for any other province is free to reject or refuse these rites and ceremonies, in principle or in the persons of those who take part in them — then as with all such matters the error is limited to the province which has erred. Are rites and ceremonies — even if errant — matters over which to break communion — as a number of provinces have done, not just with the individuals immediately representing the innovations, but with any who even approve of them? Are these matters over which to shun Christ’s table, as some have done? I believe not; and hope that there is yet time for them to reconsider their breach of communion.

Tobias S Haller BSG

November 22, 2005

More on those herrings...

I suppose my greatest confusion in this discussion of the propriety of divorce and remarriage is the argument (or perhaps I should say assertion) that the existence of two narrowly stated exceptions to the general prohibition against divorce (infidelity and paganism) somehow open the door for other exceptions as well.

This seems to me to be a very odd way of thinking. I mean, look at the situation as described in Matthew 19. The Pharisees ask Jesus if divorce is permissible for any old reason at all (which the Law permitted). Jesus says, no; the only reason is infidelity. To transform this restriction into a license hardly appears to be taking the “clear meaning of Scripture” very clearly — or seriously. It strikes me as something like saying, “Cars may only use the left-hand lane for passing; and since they can use the left-hand lane (for passing) they can use it just to drive in, too.”

So this “exceptions” assertion strikes me as deeply flawed. In fact, it reminds me of the caricature of the progressive position on sexuality concerning Leviticus, dubbed “The Shellfish Argument” by Canon Harmon of South Carolina. As he describes it, “You have noted that Leviticus is against same sex practice, but Leviticus says we should not eat shellfish. So how could we possibly listen to Leviticus?” This is, as I say, a caricature; the real argument of the progressives is not that we need pay no heed to Leviticus at all, but that we need to look at Leviticus as a legal code containing some laws that are no longer relevant, and determining which are which.

It is also argued that the existence of the two exceptions for divorce played a large part in the debates and discussions leading to the gradual liberalization of the Episcopal Church’s marriage law. This does not seem to bear up under close examination. This is laid out in White and Dykman’s Annotated Constitution and Canons, pages 399ff. A few tidbits: The 1916 General Convention joined most scholars in seeing (as most still do) that the “exception” in Matthew is not likely from Jesus (being an inclusion on the part of the redactor), and thus was not relevant to determining Jesus’ thought on the subject, which admitted no exceptions in the Gospel parallels. The report to the General Convention of 1937, rather than citing the “exceptions” argued that Jesus’ teaching against divorce representated an ideal, which many fell short; so a pastoral solution should be provided. The mechanism by which these changes ultimately were made was exactly on grounds of “fairness” and “not punishing the innocent” — beginning with the allowance of remarriage to the injured party — all in all a pastoral response to a difficult situation. (One can agree or disagree with this very loose handling of Jesus’ teaching, but this appears to have been the process, in spite of claims to the contrary.)

Finally, let me raise two more parallels that I did not include in my earlier list.

1. Some appeal to the “clear teaching of Scripture,” the historic tradition of “what we have always believed for 2,000 years,” and the unity of Anglicanism: yet surely they realize that on the subject of divorce and remarriage the Episcopal Church was innovative and “unilateral.”

2. Some decry the idea that “local option” should be allowed on sexuality matters; yet this is precisely what we have with divorce and remarriage: it is up to the local bishop to determine if a divorced person can remarry in his or her diocese, and the bishop is free to use whatever rationale seems right — a bishop could forbid any second marriages, or allow them all, and no one could gainsay the decision.

You know, I would perhaps not have raised the relevance of the divorce and remarriage issue to the broader sexuality debate were it not for the fact that so many of the traditionalists cite the passage from Matthew 19 as if what Jesus was addressing was homosexuality, rather than divorce. In this, it seems that the assertion is intended as a protective against accusations of inconsistency at best, and hypocrisy at worst. When I see the “reasserters” more generally reassert the traditional doctrine (as some, such as Dr. Peter Toon, have actually done), and call for renunciations that might well deplete their ranks of some of their most ardent spokesmen, then perhaps they will be taken seriously in this regard.

Tobias S Haller BSG

November 21, 2005

No Red Herring

I would like to respond to a recent comment I heard, similar to one that I’ve heard before: that the way the church has responded to the issue of divorce and remarriage is entirely different from the way it should deal with blessing same-sex relationships — and that to raise divorce/remarriage as a parallel is to serve up a very large red herring.

I disagree, and would like to offer the following bare-bones schematic as a rationale for why I see the issues as related.

Jesus says, divorce violates God’s will for sexual expression in humanity by putting asunder that which God has intended to remain united.

Some say, same-sex relationships violate God’s will for sexual expression in humanity by seeking to unite that which God never intended to be united.

Jesus says, marriage after divorce is equivalent to adultery, a capital offense under the Law of Moses, and a violation of one of the Ten Commandments; so that the blessing of a marriage of a divorced person constitutes blessing sin.

Some say, same-sex sexuality is a capital offense under the Law of Moses, so that the blessing of a same-sex couple constitutes blessing sin.

Jesus says, the sole exception for allowing divorce is infidelity.

Some say, this sole exception opens the door for other exceptions, including marriage for those divorced.

I say, since the only biblical law (strictly speaking) concerning same-sex sexuality is limited to Jewish males, lifelong monogamous same-sex relationships between Christians may be taken as an exception.

I hope this helps explain why I see the matters as related.

November 17, 2005

More from the Global South... and Less

Please visit Thinking Anglicans for some interesting byplays of the Global South's response to Archbishop Rowan's visit.

Seems the letter signed by 14 of the Primates, with three absent before the signing, has now to be reduced by one, as Archbishop Hanford of Jerusalem has said he did not sign, nor is he sympathetic with, much of what appears above his name.

Also important to note is Canterbury's response to the Global South Primates' apparent belief that the case is closed. What the GSPs do not appear to realize is that +Rowan does _not_ consider the sexuality matter closed or settled: nor does the Windsor Report. While some may hold to belief in an "Anglican Consensus" it is a consensus in the process of collapse or at the very least reexamination. The Lambeth Response to the "Letter of 17, er, 16... uh, make that 13" is a clear warning shot across the conservative Primates' collective bow:

17th November 2005
Lambeth Palace has issued the following statement following the publication of a letter from Primates of the Global South to the Archbishop of Canterbury:

'The Archbishop of Cantebrury has made it clear since before the time of his enthronement that neither he nor anyone else has a mandate to change the teaching of the Church by fiat. He is committed to the process to which all the primates committed themselves and their provinces in the Primates' response to the Wondsor [sic] report, contained in the communique following the meeting in Dromantine.

"If this letter is a contribution to that process of debate, then it is to be welcomed, however robust. If it is an attempt to foreclose that debate, it would seem to serve very little purpose indeed."

Tobias S Haller BSG

November 7, 2005

The Myth of the Catholic Church

Some weeks ago I came across a comment on an Internet blog that has been rattling around in my head ever since. It was made by a former Episcopal priest who has since departed our pleasant quad for the more open expanse of the Roman campagna. (Even having set his hand to this particular plow, he spends a great deal of his time looking backward.) The substance of his comment was that if one truly wants to be a catholic one must either be in communion with Rome, or in communion with the sees of the East. The problem, of course, is that exceptional monosyllable or.

The Roman Catholic Church declares that the church subsists in those who are in communion with the heir of Peter. The Eastern churches make a similar claim. Neither of them would, within their own doctrine and discipline, recognize that monosyllabic exception: it is not a question of either/or — and certainly not both/and. Rather each of them claims, ultimately and separately, to be the institutional incarnation of the body of Christ on earth. It is true that their language has cooled since the days of the Great Schism, and has even waxed fraternal; but when it comes down to institutional structure, and most importantly that evocative but ephemeral word communion, the gap is as wide as ever it was. They are not in communion with each other.

It continues to amaze me as I read the comments of various Episcopalians set on jumping what they wrongly perceive as a sinking ship, weighing the various advantages and disadvantages of these two options for purported catholicity, without recognizing the inherent contradiction in being able to make such a choice. These are competing claims: both cannot be “the catholic church” — either one is and the other isn’t, or as I believe, neither of them is, at least not exclusively. This Katholic Kafeteria (with its sparse menu of only two items) is a perversion of what it means to be catholic.

And so I come to the myth of the catholic church: no single institutional church can rightly claim that title. One can’t even make those little lists of “branches” so dear to Anglo-Catholics of a former age, who clung to the myth of short-list catholicity: Rome, Constantinople, and Canterbury — the latter somehow desperately clinging to the fringes of the formers’ garments, as they might rightly say, Who touched me?

No, my friends, this is not where the church catholic subsists. The church catholic subsists in the body of all the baptized, for the church is one and holy as well as catholic and apostolic. There is only one holy catholic and apostolic church — and all the rest are just denominations, just the promontories and peninsulas of the mainland, the denominated seas of the boundless ocean, even Rome and Constantinople, and yes Canterbury too, and for that matter (on this the feast of Willibrord) Utrecht, and Geneva, Wittenberg, and Uppsala and Calcutta and Tokyo and all the countless places where the word has been preached and the bread has been broken, and the water splashed, and the voices raised, and God glorified. This is the catholic church — that curious and contentious caravan of wayfarers who though they fail to recognize each other, will one day discover they are long-lost children of one Father in heaven.