November 30, 2006

World AIDS Day Dec 1 2006

Apostate Disease

The apostate gland is a small organ lying somewhere near the heart. Although both men and women possess the organ, it appears to create more difficulties for men than for women. These difficulties seem to arise due to irritation from external sources, which causes enlargement and pressure on the heart. The primary symptom is a restlessness and discomfort with people with whom the patient disagrees, and hypersensitivity to having this pointed out, leading the patient to charge them with “apostasy” — hence the name of this otherwise obscure and apparently non-functional gland.

Lifestyle choices may play a role in the etiology of the illness, and Anglican Bishops appear to be especially at risk. Additional symptoms include

  • frequent urge to fulmination
  • having to get out of bed more than once in the night to check on some passage in Aquinas or Cranmer
  • unsteady, weak, interrupted or wandering stream of argument
  • hearing loss
  • being a frequent pain in the lower back or neck
  • difficulty in maintaining a seat in mixed assemblies

The ASA (Apostate Specific Antigen) test is indicative, but inconclusive of the exact nature of the underlying pathology. Benign Apostatic Enlargment may be treated with medication, but more serious forms of the disease require surgery.

Tobias Haller BSG

November 29, 2006

Eating one's words

From real life as satire department

Mad Priest has pointed out a bit of documentary revisionism at the Vatican. Seems that back on Septebmer 27 the Holy Father made comments in a general audience including the statement that the Apostle Thomas "first evangelized Syria and Persia ... and then went on to Western India..., from where Christianity also reached Southern India." (Osservatore Romano, English Edition, 4 Oct 2006, page 10)

This was widely reported in India and caused no small concern to South Indian Christians, who have always held that Thomas evangelized them; this was taken as a slight to their apostolic heritage.

The Vatican version of the file was quietly edited recently, as this listing from the Vatican search engine reveals (note the file date of 24 Nov 2006):

General Audience, 27 September 2006 (English)
... Wednesday, 27 September 2006 Thomas the twin Dear Brothers and ... went on to Western India (cf. Acts of Thomas 1...
Date: 24/11/06 Size: 12k

The new revised standard version states that Thomas "first evangelized Syria and Persia ... then went on to Western India..., from where also he finally reached Southern India."

I'm glad that is all sorted out. Fortunately, the infallibility of His Holiness doesn't require the indelibility of his words. Otherwise he might have to eat them, and discover their inedibility.

Tobias Haller BSG

November 27, 2006

The Diocese and the Church

I come from seeing a few folks floating the idea that the Episcopal Church is "decentralized." I would say that on the contrary it is unitary, as no diocese can be created without national approval; nor can bishops be elected without national church approval, just for starters. All dioceses are required to give unqualified accession to the national Constitution and Canons. Between meetings of the General Convention, the church is managed by a national Executive Council. Where is this alleged "decentralization"? (Please note, I use "national" here for convenience: there are a number of "international" dioceses part of the Episcopal Church -- and they have say too, equally with those in the US.)

This structural reality also has bearing on the property question concerning dioceses that attempt to leave The Episcopal Church. "Who gets the property" is amply answered by the wording of the relevant canon: (I.7.4)

All real and personal property held by of for the benefit of any Parish, Mission or Congregegation is held in trust for this Church and the Diocese thereof in which such Parish, Mission or Congregation is located.
If a "diocese" were to assert it is no longer "of this Church" it would forfeit the property under this canon, since the property is held for this Church and the Diocese thereof. So when a diocese "leaves" (if it could) or simply is dissolved (as is more likely) the property reverts to "this Church" -- that is, The Episcopal Church, governed since 1789 by the Constitution and Canons of General Convention.

November 23, 2006


Lazarus chose the best of all,
not merely the better part:
utter love of the belovèd Lord,
utter death to self;
when Jesus wept,
recall from death.

Through utter love in life,
through utter inactivity in death,
in utter response from beyond death into life,
he silences both Martha’s pots and pans,
and Mary’s piety.

— Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
Thanksgiving Day, 2006

November 13, 2006

Screwtape to Wormwood, 2006

My dear Wormwood,

I want to pass along a brief note in recognition of the wonderful work you are doing with the Anglicans these days. Anglicans in general have been rather bland fare for quite some time, but your introduction of some new condiments has a spiced things up quite delightfully. I don’t think I’ve experienced such delectable invective since the late 19th century. Of course, it can’t hold a candle to the Reformation, but it does show signs of promise for a sumptuous feast.

But first of all, credit where credit is due: and much of it must be given to Glumsnaggle, our new IT manager, for the way in which he has managed to transform the Internet from a useful tool for communication into a positive cesspool of trivialization, mischaracterization, libel and slander — and my old favorite, assertion masked as argument. Oh, I never tire of that one. Fortunately, neither do they! Of course, he merely had to guide the process, but it has assured him a place in the Lowerarchy, and I hear he may even be on the Dishonors List.

Along the line of credit where due, I must say you appear to have taken a leaf out of the Enemy’s book, and are becoming positively creative. You have got your patients to the point where they are simultaneously claiming and rejecting authority (of any and all sorts, no less!) without seeing the contradiction. You’ve got them taking each other’s arguments at the very worst, and picking nits like there’s no tomorrow — true enough for some of them, as they will soon discover when they arrive in the Infernal Kitchen.

Just a bit of avuncular advice as you continue your work: by all means keep them focused on themselves, and on institutional questions — Who Gets to Be In Power. I mean, you can be creative as you like with the details, but the “tried and false” methods are always best to Fall back on. I think I do not need to remind you of the First Principle of The Tempters’ Manual, “Remember the Apple.”

Which brings me to my central concern: this unfortunate attention on the part of some of your patients to these so-called Millennium Development Goals. It would really be most unhelpful to our cause to have them actually do the things the Enemy wants them to do, to set aside self-obsession and do something about disease, poverty, ignorance, and so on. Anything you can do to persuade them that these MDGs are just “secular” will be to your advantage. I had a lovely curried Goat last night — one of the Old Souls that I’d kept in reserve; and you know, he still didn’t get it! As I savored him bite by bite, he kept whimpering, “But when did we see you hungry or thirsty or in prison...” Delicious.

So, Nephew, in closing, I advise you to apply yourself to this two-pronged approach: play up the institution and downplay what it is actually meant to accomplish, as it could turn out to be a disaster for us if this movement catches on.

Your Uncle,

— Tobias Haller BSG, with thanks to C.S. Lewis

November 12, 2006

In the Cause of John Jay

I am very happy to report that the 230th Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of New York has adopted the resolution asking the Bishop to authorize the commemoration of John Jay on May 17, using a proper to be developed by the Diocesan Liturgical Commission. My suggestion? Zechariah 8:1-8, Psalm 119:9-16, and Luke 10:25-37.

Now, to begin working on the icon...

—Tobias Haller BSG

November 5, 2006

Diocesan Divorce Court?

The Diocese of Pittsburgh has, by a recent action of its Diocesan Convention, withdrawn its consent to being part of Province III of the Episcopal Church. Citing Article VII of the Constitution, which states that no Diocese shall be included in a Province without its consent, it would seem the case is clear, and that Canon I.9.1 assigning Pittsburgh its provincial status is nullified.

I believe this view rests on faulty reasoning. The Chancellor of Pittsburgh raises the issue of the Constitution’s ambiguity, but I believe in doing so he defeats his own claims. For Article VII is only ambiguous to the extent it is capable of being misunderstood, by removing it from its legal and historical context, as has the Chancellor. He claims that the consent of the Diocese to inclusion in a Province is not simply an initial consent at the time of inclusion, but a continued consent for as long as inclusion continues. Had the Constitution been intended to refer only to the initial consent given at the creation of the Provinces, or the initial inclusion of Dioceses within them, he claims that the framers could have stipulated consent “at the time of admission” as part of the Article.

However, what the Chancellor ignores is that such clarifying language was not necessary to convey such a meaning, since at the time of the adoption of Article VII in 1901 initial inclusion was the only meaning possible, since the Provinces did not yet exist.

This Article was the enabling resolution that gave the General Convention the authority to create a provincial structure, and it took a dozen years to realize, when the General Convention finally (in 1913) adopted the Canon actually uniting all of the Dioceses of the Church into Provinces, stating that “the Dioceses of this Church shall be and are hereby united into Provinces” subject to the very proviso of the Constitution upon which the Chancellor makes his incorrect claim — that the diocese will remain in some state of perpetual consent — but which rather ensures that the dioceses will have consented to this action. It was not a question, as the historical record shows, of Dioceses wishing to remain unattached to any Province, but rather having the right to determine which Province they would consent to join. General Convention constituted the Provinces via a Canon — not via the Constitution, which had ceded that power to the General Convention.

Finally, any possible ambiguity about whether to be included means to become or remain a part of a Province is resolved by the legal use of the word consent. For “in law,” consent signifies not a kind of general or ongoing willingness, but “deliberate concurrence in the terms of a contract or agreement, of such nature as to bind the party consenting.”* And, as I addressed earlier with the word impediment, in the context of a legal document (such as the Constitution) words must be taken in their legal sense.

An analogy may be helpful: as with marriage, consent precedes union, and depends upon it. No one would suggest that the legal principle “no one shall be married without their consent” means anything other than that consent is required for and prior to the initiation of the marriage, and once consent is given, and the marriage rite performed, it takes more than a mere change of mind or heart — or unwillingness to abide by the consent once given — formally to end the marriage.

In the present case, it would appear the only body capable of severing the connection of the Diocese with the Province is the General Convention, who has the power to amend the Canon in question — as they have had cause to do over the years with the creation of new Dioceses and Provinces. If Pittsburgh wants a divorce — and if such a thing is possible (other than transferring Pittsburgh to some other Province to which it consents to be joined) it can only be granted by the very General Convention from which the Diocese seems so eager to distance itself.

— Tobias Haller BSG

* Webster’s New 20th Century Dictionary, Unabridged, Second Edition.

November 3, 2006

For the Sake of Truth

for the Feast of Richard Hooker: a sermon by Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

GRANT that we may maintain that middle way, not as a compromise for the sake of peace, but as a comprehension for the sake of truth. — The Collect for the feast of Richard Hooker

There once was a vicar in an English country church of whom his congregation said, “Our Vicar is like God — he is invisible on weekdays and incomprehensible on Sundays.” I hope that I will not in my reflections today prove to be the latter.

Incomprehensible is a synonym for “impossible to understand.” Such understanding can be pictured almost in a physical sense: for to understand is to stand under, as a table stands under what is placed upon it, and so must be larger and more stable than what it holds in order to sustain or support it. To comprehend in this sense is to hold the object of knowledge on the table of ones mind.

Which is why God is incomprehensible. We cannot comprehend God because however hard we try, we cannot wrap our finite minds around the infinite God; God will not fit on the table of the human mind, however rasa our tabula, however much room we make on it, however many leaves we add, because, as the old hymn says, God is broader than its measure.

And the same goes for Truth, if we are speaking of Truth With A Capital T — not just some true things, but the whole ball of wax, the Truth as a full and complete description of All That Is — for the description must be at least as complex as what it describes. Try, for example, to describe a zipper to someone who has never seen one. And when we get to natural zippers like the string of DNA that holds us all together and builds us up at the most fundamental level, the description will take volumes — the printed listing of the human genome, a single transcribed copy of just one DNA zipper, of which we each carry trillions of the real thing in our bodies, would take 200 volumes the size of the Manhattan phone book.

To make matters worse, the truth about what is — even as it is spoken — adds to the sum of what is. If we were to write down even a mere tally of all that is, without further comment or explanation, truly the universe itself would not be large enough to contain all the books that might be written. For the books themselves would add to the substance of the world, and with every word we wrote we would be adding to the subject of our enterprise, and the bibliographers and catalogers would soon have to take up their work. As the wise man said, “Of the making of books there is no end.”

Indeed, the only way to comprehend the Truth, in this fullest sense of the word, and as appears to be the aim laid out in the Collect for this feast of Richard Hooker, is to be outside of all that is. And since only God is outside of all that is, as God is the cause of all being and becoming, so only the mind of God can truly comprehend all Truth.

We get glimpses of this outside-in structure of reality in the visions of the saints and poets — in Byzantine icons and in Dante, and in William Blake too. Perhaps it is most vividly captured in that wonderful vision God imparted to Blessed Julian of Norwich: a God’s-eye-view of the universe, as she saw in the palm of her hand a tiny thing no bigger than a hazelnut, so frail it looked as if it would cease to be in a moment. And God told her, It is all that is, and it endures because God loves it. As Blake would later write,

To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.
That is the God?s-eye-view that only the odd mystic glimpses.

Now, in spite of the visions of the saints and poets — who are careful not to mistake these momentary experiences of God’s view of the world for their own accomplishment — most of us are wise enough to know our limits. As Hooker himself put it, “The true properties and operations of [God] are to know that which is not possible for created natures to comprehend; to be simply the highest cause of all things.” (5.53.1)

Yet in spite of this, some in the church from time to time do appear to think they have come into possession of the Truth, which usually turns out to be something far more prosaic and far less visionary — a set of right doctrines, or more commonly, right behaviors. And most of us have the good sense to realize that even this limited claim is a bit presumptuous. We have learned from the hard experience of the church’s history that what you don’t know can hurt you; and that often the church is at its most errant precisely when it claims to be most certain. It is rash for any in the church to claim the ability to see in a glass brightly: especially when the church’s rear-view mirror consistently warns us that objects are nearer than they appear — and we travel at our peril if we imagine that our view through the looking glass is either infallible or complete. Indeed, as we take that backward glance on the ecclesiastical autobahn, we see that behind us HeilsgeschichteStrasse — Sacred Story Street — is littered with the wrecks of time over which God towers in divine incomprehensibility.

Just ask Galileo, Richard Hooker’s contemporary, who set about the task of trying to record a few true things about the world, things evident to the senses, or at least to the senses aided and abetted by the telescope. He suffered the fate of being told that what was wasn’t, or at least wasn’t what he saw it was. Threatened with torture, he recanted and submitted to those who refused to know the truth of what is, so insistent were they on what they thought ought to be.


Those on our side of the Tiber, the Anglicans, by Hooker’s day had learned their lesson the hard way. There had been enough burnings and tortures and beheadings on the scepter’d isle over mutually exclusive doctrines to satisfy the lust for certainty at least for a season. So a “settlement” to continuing vexatious matters emerged from the serendipitous arrival of a monarch like Elizabeth and a scholar like Hooker.

Now, Elizabeth, as a monarch, was probably more interested in compromise for the sake of peace than in comprehension for the sake of truth. She did not wish, as she said, to make windows into men’s souls. She knew that if she refrained from peeping into her advisors’ heads, she could benefit from the wisdom they would share around the privy council table, rather than having to commit those selfsame heads to the block and pike. As long as private opinion on divisive matters was kept in the privy closet, as long as one didn’t ask or didn’t tell, a form of peace could be maintained. Thus what Napoleon would later call the nation of shopkeepers kept the peace by means of compromise, the peaceful coexistence that falls a good deal short of true communion and community, but at least keeps heads on shoulders.

But as our collect reminds us, Hooker aimed higher. His Middle Way was not primarily a matter of compromise, but of comprehension. And the genius of comprehension lies in the breadth of its embrace, and in its confession of and willingness to live with an inevitable degree of error and ignorance. Hooker confesses that since we cannot know all things, and sometimes err in the things we think we know, we must allow room for all things, to make the table not infinitely broad (which is beyond our capacity) but broad enough to hold both the unforeseen and unexpected guest, as well as the uninvited and errant guest who shows up at the wrong party. Who knows, until the master comes, who really belongs there after all?

Hooker directs us to avoid the need for final answers on all but the minimally sufficient, and sufficiently salvific claims of the Gospel, secure truths at the heart of what it means to be Christian: centered on the existence of God, and the incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ —the eternal Gospel without which there really wouldn’t be any point in continuing the discussion, but beyond which all else is more or less provisional. As he said concerning baptismal faith: “Belief consisteth not so much in knowledge as in acknowledgment of all things that heavenly wisdom revealeth; the affection of faith is above her reach, her love to Godward above the comprehension which she hath of God.”(5.63.1)

So the final answers and the definitive positions on everything and anything, so beloved both by Calvinists and Papists, would give way in Hooker’s view to a more rational willingness to withhold and reserve final judgment on all but a very few core doctrines, to realize that mutually exclusive opinions on other matters cannot both be true — and in the long run neither might be true, and the real truth might lie somewhere else altogether. To cast the net broadly, to make the table wider; to expand the breadth of charity to include all possibilities on matters for which clear and final evidence is yet to be shown: this is Hooker’s rational and charitable mission, a willingness to treat our knowledge as sufficient, rather than complete, and certain, in certain matters, only of its own uncertainty; and above all to trust that all such knowledge and love are securely centered in the depths of God, where the Spirit moves and searches, and where alone wisdom is to be found.

For when one is truly in the communion of the Church, truly united with the other members of the body — which can only truly be a body when all the members are lovingly comprehended in it in spite of differing opinions on secondary matters — Deus ibi est: God is there. Next to this transcendent unity-in-communion all other modified and restricted uses of that word, even the one called “Anglican,” must surely pale in comparison. In the truly comprehensive communion of the whole Body of the Church, the blessed company of all faithful people, we are in God, and God is in us.


And it is in this that we come to the grand reversal, the inside-out of God. Now, generally speaking, reversible garments are notable principally for being unattractive whichever way you wear them. But the inside-outness of God is quite another matter. Here we enter the amazing world — the real world, I might add — in which the inside is bigger than the outside — as observation shows us is true of most church buildings. God’s universe, it turns out, is more like those Byzantine icons or M.C. Escher lithographs than most people are willing to allow. This truth is summed up nowhere so well as in that Johannine avalanche of prepositions and pronouns from today’s gospel.

Jesus starts first from the expected greatness of God: “As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us” — so we are nested in God, resting in the palm of God’s hand like Thumbelina, safe in our hazelnut cradle.

But then comes the surprising reversal: Jesus prays, “I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one,” and suddenly we — made one in the mystical and holy communion of the Body of the Church, the Body of Christ, the temple to which God comes and deigns to be our guest — suddenly we hold Christ within us as he holds the Father within him, nested like a set of Russian dolls with God the Father in the innermost secret room of the human heart, the holy of holies, the privy chamber and closet of good council, and the human image and likeness become the frame to hold the true divine reality behind all that is, among us and within us always.


And in this and this alone is the comprehension of the Truth, the whole Truth, and nothing but the Truth. I said earlier that God will not fit upon our mental tables; but there is one table on which God will fit, indeed, upon which God will fit in a few minutes. It’s right there in the sanctuary. In a few moments, the universe will turn inside out, the heavens will open and God will descend and condescend to be among us and with us, the Spirit will descend upon us and upon these gifts, and we will hold God in the palms our hands, and place God to our lips and, like Mary, become God’s earthly sanctuary. We in him and he in us, will become what we behold, and hold what we become.

Sanctified in this Truth, comprehended in this Body, fed with this food, may we be now and ever one, in the knowledge and the love of God, and the peace of God which passes understanding.

November 2, 2006

A Man of Justice, Freedom and Peace

At the upcoming Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of New York, I am sponsoring a resolution to ask the Bishop to authorize the commemoration of John Jay on May 17, using a proper to be developed by the diocesan liturgical commission.

Those who only know of Jay from high school American history classes may well wonder why Jay could possibly figure on the calendar of the church. I was in much the same position until an attorney friend and colleague from a neighboring diocese brought Jay to my more devoted attention!

He also pointed out to me that the American Book of Common Prayer’s calendar commemorates no American layman — with the exception of Jonathan Daniels, who was a seminarian. This is not for a lack of people on whom to draw, and among them is John Jay (1745-1829), who as most of us know was a major figure in the early days of American politics, serving in the Continental Congress, on numerous diplomatic missions, and as the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

But Jay was not only pivotal in the creation of this nation, and the peaceful settlement of the Revolution, but in the early constitution of the Episcopal Church, locally and nationally. He supported Bishop Provoost of New York, and was a close friend of the first Presiding Bishop William White, who was chaplain to the Continental Congress that Jay headed as President. As a deputy to the first General Conventions he influenced the development of the church’s political structure in a way that won the approval of the Church of England, and paved the way for Canterbury’s consecration of the post-Seabury generation of bishops. (Seabury’s freewheeling approach had nearly scotched further recognition of the Episcopal Church on England’s part!)

Jay’s influence didn’t stop with the Constitution, however, as he was also blessed to live long enough to become one of the charter members of the Episcopal Church’s first corporate effort: the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society, founded in 1821.

Jay was also a man of high moral principles — not without his complexities — and as the church is called to examine the history of slavery, it is important to note Jay’s early role in ending it, from as early as 1777. He was a founder (in 1785) of the New York State Society for Promoting the Manumission of Slaves, and the African Free School for their education. He was a major voice in the debates that eventually led to the phased abolition of slavery in New York State beginning in 1799, with the passage of an Act he was able to sign as Governor. Years later, in 1854, journalist Horace Greely noted that no one could take more credit for ending slavery in New York state than Chief Justice Jay.

It is certainly true that Jay had his faults and was no stranger to controversy. He tangled with Bishop Hobart over the relative merits of denominational versus free Bible societies — and to prove his point was a founding member of the American Bible Society. And unlike the more idealistic abolitionists of the next generation (including his son William), although Jay eventually freed all slaves in his possession, he defended the gradual approach on the pragmatic grounds that liberation without education and skills was of no service to the one set free.

Jay has additional local significance for New Yorkers. He was a graduate of Kings College (now Columbia University), a warden of Trinity Church in Manhattan, and a founding member and senior warden of St Matthew’s, Bedford. It is altogether fitting that the Diocese of New York commemorate the life of this servant of Christ, an exemplar of a layman’s ministry in his tireless work for justice, freedom and peace, as a step towards proposing his eventual inclusion in the calendar of the Book of Common Prayer.

— Tobias Haller BSG