August 31, 2006

Common Cause and Effect

Folks from the conservative wing have been issuing confessional statements for a while now; and it comes as no surprise to me that when these confessions are examined in detail, they sometimes veer from real catholic orthodoxy onto the soft-shoulder of sectariansim while protesting that they are still very much on the road.

The recent Common Cause draft statement is a case in point. Others have noted the odd fondness for the 1662 Book of Common Prayer and its predecessors. But I was more struck by this clause of the Common Cause confession:

We confess the canonical books of the Old and New Testaments to be the inspired Word of God, containing all things necessary for salvation, and to be the final authority and unchangeable standard for Christian faith and life.
The latter half of this is very far and away out of the Anglican mainstream, and represents almost lapidary Calvinism.

Hooker addressed this argument, that the Scripture is a limit upon human life rather than the source of its life, in many passages of his work. Perhaps the most eloquent is this simple statement:

It is no more disgrace for Scripture to have left a number of things free to be ordered at the discretion of the Church, than for nature to have left it unto the wit of man to devise his own attire. (III.iv.1)
or at greater length, and with greater relevance to the present situation:

Two opinions therefore there are concerning sufficiency of Holy Scripture, each extremely opposite unto the other, and both repugnant unto truth. The schools of Rome teach Scripture to be so unsufficient, as if, except traditions were added, it did not contain all revealed and supernatural truth, which absolutely is necessary for the children of men in this life to know that they may in the next be saved. Others justly condemning this opinion grow likewise unto a dangerous extremity, as if Scripture did not only contain all things in that kind necessary, but all things simply, and in such sort that to do any thing according to any other law were not only unnecessary but even opposite unto salvation, unlawful and sinful. Whatsoever is spoken of God or things appertaining to God otherwise than as the truth is, though it seem an honour, it is an injury. And as incredible praises given unto men do often abate and impair the credit of their deserved commendation, so we must likewise take great heed, lest in attributing unto Scripture more than it can have, the incredibility of that do cause even those things which indeed it hath most abundantly to be less reverently esteemed. (II.viii)
I do wonder if the Common Causers really mean what they say in its literal and plain sense? Shall they begin to shun buttons and chromium, even as they embrace shunning those whose manner of life offends them? Shall we soon see a squad of Black Bumper Bishops, or even more observant Buggy Bishops? I think not. Rather, we will see the usual uneven application of Scripture that is convenient for some to the detriment of others: the font of all sectarianism cloaked as the catholic faith.

— Tobias S Haller BSG

August 20, 2006

Living Stones

Some years ago I preached at Grace and Saint Peter's, Baltimore, on the feast of their Dedication. I just discovered that the sermon was published in the Summer 2005 issue of The Anglican Catholic (XVII). It begins:

It is a great pleasure to be invited once again to stand in the splendid pulpit of this beautiful church; especially on this day when we give thanks for its dedication as a place set apart for the worship of Almighty God. In giving thanks, we are called to think not only of the spiritual gifts that abound in this place, but about the hard facts of its physicality: the reality of its very stones. And in doing so, we face a mystery revealed both in the creation of the universe, and in the new creation which began with the Incarnation of Jesus Christ.

This mystery finds its eloquent metaphor in one of the most contradictory images in all of Scripture: the living stones which Saint Peter invites us to become.

Now, in folklore and fiction, from the petrified souls who glimpsed Medusa's writhing hairdo, to poor Han Solo carbonized in Star Wars, being turned into stone is a curse, a symbol of death, coldness and finality.

So it may seem odd that Saint Peter should suggest that we be turned into stones. And so he stresses that the stones we are to become are living stones. That's another image altogether, equally familiar from legends and tales. My favorite instance is C.S. Lewis' The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. As you may recall, the land of Narnia has been cursed by a wicked witch, so that it is always winter but never Christmas, and she has turned all who oppose her into stone — frozen statues, who only come back to life when the Great Lion Aslan comes to revive them with his breath.

Enjoy the rest...

—Tobias S Haller BSG

August 19, 2006

Finally, A Conference

I am happy to see word of the planned meeting of our Primate and Primate-Elect and official representation from the Anglican Communion with a small group of American bishops, including both via media Lee and Alternative Oversight petitioner Iker. The Anglican Communion Office confirms that this meeting is taking place with the approval of the Archbishop of Canterbury, unlike the Texas gathering to which I referred earlier, and for which the Archbishop's approval — while claimed — has not been explicitly confirmed.

It seems to me that, like it or not, any kind of Alternative Primatial Oversight will have to involve change or adaptation in the legal structures of the Episcopal Church — whether that means the creation of a new non-geographical Province X, a “flying bishops” scheme, or some other mechanism. I know similar ideas have been tabled and rejected in the past; but that does not mean that they cannot be reconsidered — as we saw at General Convention, reconsideration might be considered an Anglican conceptual art-form. Such reconsideration is to be preferred to the improvisational free-form ecclesiology that Anglicans have been engaging in of late.

Any official changes will require the official participation of the acknowledged authorities: and whether the dissidents like it or not, the Presiding Bishop is the Presiding Bishop, the General Convention is the General Convention, and it is high time for the Archbishop to work to engage the dissidents with the authorities whose consent will be required for any legitimate (i.e., licit) adaptations to accommodate the dissent.

I am distressed that some of my sisters and brothers of the liberal wing have begun bewailing this meeting before it begins, predicting anything from a sellout to a rout. On the contrary, I am hopeful that this meeting may produce some positive and concrete results toward a real settlement, because the people capable of actually accomplishing this are to be participants. This is not backchannel diplomacy, but perhaps a real treaty discussion at last.

Major changes will take time, however — the creation of a new Province will require another General Convention, if that is the road that is to be followed. But temporary measures can and should be put into place in such a way as to preserve the interests of God’s people on whatever side of the current controversy they find themselves.

Continental Congress

To return to a theme I’ve played a number of times over the last months, it is high time for all who profess themselves Christians to recognize the wisdom of Donne’s imagery about islands and promontories. He was talking about death — but I prefer to apply the image to life. No church is an island — even the so-called “national” churches are merely promontories and peninsulas. When we look across the gulf that separates, it is good to be reminded it is a gulf, not an ocean, and that at the headland of the continent we are united at our roots.

What, after all, is a “national church” in this day, in which Erastianism is a fading memory for Christianity even while it becomes the desideratum for militant Islam? Geography is less significant for us than it was in the days when few traveled, and few spoke any language other than their own. Even the Eastern Orthodox will acknowledge (ruefully) the anomaly of multiple overlapping jurisdictions in much of the world.

But the Christian, through baptism, is born into a citizenship that is not of this world — born again into a citizenship that cannot be lost, marked with an indelible passport stamped on the forehead in the shape of a cross. We are citizens of the world to come, and aliens in this one, wherever we are.

—Tobias S Haller BSG

August 12, 2006

Peter, Paul, and the Church

Those of us who follow the discipline of the Daily Office will soon be coming to the point in Acts of the Apostles at which it gets agreed that Peter should minister the Gospel to some while Paul and his associates will minister the same Gospel to others — others who will be held to a different standard of conduct, since they are not Jews but Gentiles. The wisdom of this move was credited by the Apostles to the Holy Spirit.

It appears to me that we have here a model for how to handle disputes in the church. It is not necessary, classical Anglican formularies tell us, that rites and ceremonies be in all places the same; nor would it seem, given the Apostles’ debate and decision, in even weightier matters of the Law, that an absolute uniformity be observed, so long as the heart of the Gospel is preserved.

To use Alisdair MacIntyre’s telling imagery, What deep truths from the narrative of our past, in which the practice of obedience has formed us, will enable us to meet future commitments in such a way that we “make of human life a unity”? What, exactly, are the obligations put upon us by the Gospel, if not those Christ enumerated in the Summary of the Law? And how, in keeping them, do we find ourselves, even if discontinuous on the practice of other virtues — even virtues held by some to be grave and important — how do we find ourselves still able to remain united in spite of these discontinuities?

And can we? This is the challenge that faced the church of Acts: and as the Epistles show, it failed — splintered over glossolalia and circumcision and a handful of other trivial discords that the churches’ warring members allowed to divide them — until the hammer of martyrdom in the Empire’s hand awoke them to a consciousness that there were more serious things in life — and in the life to come.

So can we be a church united in Christ while still some of us are “Pauline” and others “Petrine”? Does the unity of the church depend on choosing between Paul, or Cephas, or Apollos? Upon this set of rules or another? Or upon Christ, who summarized the Law under the rubric of Love, and in whom we are one not by our own virtue, but by virtue of our Baptism, and who has chosen us as much as we have chosen him?

— Tobias S Haller BSG

August 5, 2006


“Some standing here shall not taste death until
they see the Son of God in glory come.”
So Jesus prophesied. He soon chose some
of his disciples, climbed a lonely hill.
Did they suspect that that would be the day
when glory would come down within a cloud,
surround, embrace them all, and speak aloud,
“This is my Son. Hear what he has to say.”?
They saw; they heard, but did not understand
what goal the high Eternal Counsel planned.
Ahead lay cross and crown, the lifting up,
the agony, the bloody, bitter cup.
But Peter did not comprehend these truths.
Instead, he said, “Lord, let us build three booths.”

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG, July 1990

August 4, 2006

Canterburial Insertions Unhelpful

I am distressed that the Archbishop of Canterbury appears to be participating in the Texan Consultation by proxy. This continues a pattern of meetings with various parties disaffected to one degree or other, and his somewhat patronizing acknowledgment that the Anglican Communion Network consists of Episcopalians (which they took as a bit more of an endorsement than I imagine he intended; but then, his intent is difficult to read at times.) It must be acknowledged that +Rowan's acts have been less meddlesome than those of his retired immediate predecessor, but it is nonetheless bothersome in that he seems to be ignoring the standards of polity I referred to in my previous post.

Rather, the Archbishop should, by Lambeth's own standards, deal directly with the duly and synodically elected leaders of the (at present) sole legitimate constituent member of the Anglican Communion (per the Constitution of the Anglican Consultative Council) on our shores, The Episcopal Church -- not with conventicles or special interest groups, however exalted their membership, or however much the special interests of these groups might coincide with his own views, or the purported views of the "majority of the Anglican Communion."

It might be argued that the "embassy" of Bishop Langrish to meet with the House of Bishops was +Rowan's attempt at proper channeling; and that the "failure" of this mission (i.e., B033's alleged inadequacy) opens the door for this subsequent move. However, such a move remains — and I don't know how to say this delicately — subversive. It leads me to ask, "Archbishop, what part of the word 'No' don't you understand?" The Episcopal Church has made its position clear; no less ambiguously though with greater charity than, say, Nigeria.

In the best possible light, this may be an instance of behind the scenes diplomacy; the problem being that it is not behind the scenes but trumpeted on the Internet. Perhaps the good offices of Bishop Wimberly may provide some room for mediation. But I remain concerned that such ad hoc backchannel efforts have not, in the past, proven beneficial in the long run, and may simply distract us from the difficult task ahead.

— Tobias S Haller

Lambeth Speaks on General Convention

The proposed gathering of "Windsor" bishops in Texas appears, in its rejection of General Convention's official act in adopting B033, and as an effort to bypass the General Convention as the collective and authoritative "voice" of the Episcopal Church in Communion matters, once again to be ignoring a principle laid out by Lambeth from the very beginning:

"The Provincial Synod -- or, as it is called in New Zealand, the General Synod, and in the United States the General Convention -- is formed, whenever it does not exist already by law and usage, through the voluntary association of Dioceses for united legislation and common action. The Provincial Synod not only provides a method for securing unity amongst the Dioceses which are thus associated, but also forms the link between these Dioceses and other Churches of the Anglican Communion.... It is the office of the Provincial Synod, generally, to exercise, within the limits of the Province, powers in regard to Provincial questions similar to those which the Diocesan Synod exercises, within the Diocese, in regard to Diocesan questions. As to the relation between these two Synods, your Committee are of opinion, that the Diocese is bound to accept positive enactments of a Provincial Synod in which it is duly represented, and that no Diocesan regulations have force, if contrary to the decisions of a higher Synod; but that, in order to prevent any collision or misunderstanding, the spheres of action of the several Synods should be defined on the following principle, viz., That the Provincial Synod should deal with questions of common interest to the whole Province, and with those which affect the communion of the Dioceses with one another and with the rest of the Church; whilst the Diocesan Synod should be left free to dispose of matters of local interest, and to manage the affairs of the Diocese." -- Committee Report A of the Lambeth Conference of 1867
The findings of this committee were ratified in Resolution 4, which reads:
"That, in the opinion of this Conference, Unity in Faith and Discipline will be best maintained among our several branches of the Anglican Communion by due and canonical subordination of the Synods of the several branches to the higher authority of a Synod or Synods above them."
This does not, by the way, contrary to the assertions of some, refer to Lambeth itself, which was never conceived of as a canonical or synodical body, but as the invitation letter to the first Conference explicitly declared,
"Such a meeting would not be competent to make declarations or lay down definitions on points of doctrine." -- Letter of Invitation from the Archbishop of Canterbury, 22 February 1867
— Tobias S Haller

August 1, 2006

The Split [Still] In Our Future [?]

I wrote the following in October of 2004, in a note to the now famous House of Bishops/Deputies List. I am posting it here at this point as a “check” on how things have fared in relation to my sense at the time, just prior to the publication of the Windsor Report. I do so in part in response to the continued expressed hopes — and I have myself expressed them, most recently in an essay in Episcopal Life — that the Communion might still find a way to hold together in spite of the many tensions and disagreements we face.

The final question still stands.

The Split in our Future

Given the recent statement ("Drawing the Line") from the Anglican Communion Institute and the comments and actions of Archbishop Akinola, it appears to me that a split in the Anglican Communion is almost certainly assured. Neither Akinola nor ACI will be content with any form of Communion in which the Episcopal Church (and one assumes the Canadian as well) are allowed to be at the table in any meaningful sense of the word. A "parallel jurisdiction" in which parishes and perhaps dioceses of the "Network" would be recognized in addition to the Episcopal Church (assuming such an arrangement could be worked out) will not be satisfactory to ACI. Akinola and others have openly opined on a new "center of unity" apart from Canterbury, should he not comply with their demands for the discipline and exile of the Episcopal and Canadian Churches. Akinola has been explicit in his rejection of participation in any synod or conference in which those who consented to Bishop Robinson's election and consecration are seated, and to date has been true to his word.

I will make no prognostication on the contents of the Windsor Report, nor Canterbury's response to it, but it appears that we will either see a temporary split in the Anglican Communion (if the American and Canadian churches are exiled from full participation in the "instruments of unity" until they have undone what others believe they ought not to have done) or a permanent schism (consisting of perhaps most, but not all, of what is called the "Global South" and a number of sympathetic parishes, and perhaps dioceses, scattered through the rest of the present Communion) if those concerned do not find the solution Canterbury eventually adopts to be acceptable.

Am I misreading the signs of the times?

— Tobias S Haller BSG (October 2004)