April 30, 2007

Feeling a Draft (Covenant)

I’ve been reviewing the Draft Covenant for the Anglican Communion over the last weeks, and continue to find it a strange document. Much of it is inoffensive and reads like a slightly expanded Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral. But those very expansions, slight as they may be, void the soundness of the document, even were it not unacceptable due to the more serious implied threats folded into its latter sections. (As Petruchio observed, its sting is in its tail.)

The problems begin much earlier, with citation of the Articles of Religion and the Book of Common Prayer 1662, complete with its Ordinal, as foundational “historic formularies” to which “loyalty” is due. This is a particularly strange expansion, as the Draft Covenant itself is in direct conflict with these foundations in a number of particulars.

Most importantly, a characteristic mark of Anglicanism is the autonomy of national or particular churches, with a clear and absolute rejection of any and all episcopal authority from outside. This is clearly embodied in Article XXXVII of the Articles of Religion, which any interested reader can find at leisure in most versions of the BCP.

This clear preference for autonomy is also a crucial part of the 1662 Ordinal (which is much harder to find, as more recent editions of the so-called 1662 Book of Common Prayer were extensively amended over the years). But the original 1662 book contained, as a necessary step to ordination the swearing of an Oath which said in part:

...I do declare that no foreign Prince, Person, Prelate, State, or Potentate hath, or ought to have any jurisdiction, power, superiority, pre-eminence, or authority, Ecclesiastical or Spiritual, within this Realm. So help me God.
This ecclesiastical independence is a formative element in the creation of the Church of England, and of The Episcopal Church, whose ecclesiastical independence from its Mother Church was seen as natural and necessary at the time of the American Revolution, as stated in the Preface to the First American Book of Common Prayer. The Draft Covenant is out of step with this principle, a principle at the heart of the very authorities in which its authors place so much stock.

I am troubled when authorities are so assembled without apparent engagement with what they actually say. I leave to one side, though I cannot resist citing it, the requirement of the Preface to the Ordinal of 1662 (amended only in 1964) that requires of candidates for ordination a facility “in the Latin Tongue” even before mentioning knowledge of the Scripture. One wonders how well-observed is this portion of the 1662 book among those eager to establish it as a touchstone or foundation? It makes me wonder how serious the authors of this Draft Covenant are in their appeals to these authorities; or if rather we are not witnessing the kind of debate in which slogans are waved like banners, and authoritative books are tossed about in virtue of their weight rather than their contents.

— Tobias Haller BSG

April 24, 2007

More on dismissal

from the mot d'escalier (or early morning being hit in the head with a thought) department:

The dismissal at the end of the Eucharist represents the conversion of Mass into energy — to love and serve the Lord.

And while I'm at it, I have on occasion added to the dismissal in this fashion: "Go in peace to love and serve the Lord, and your neighbor as yourself."


April 23, 2007

Go in peace

When the deacon sends us forth from worship, we are reminded of our commission to address the needs of the world. It is a dismissal not a dispersal. We are sent, not excused. —Tobias Haller

April 20, 2007

More on Sin and Virtue

Wormwood's Doxy has offered a wonderfully rich and reflective response to my brief epigram in the previous post. I fear that while brevity may be the soul of wit, it can also be the doorway to confusion. So let me offer as it were a Talmudic expansion on the foregoing Mishnah.

W. D. says that the first part of my saying, "Sin is asserting one's individuality at the expense of others," engenders despair or hopelessness: "I see no forgiveness or possibility of redemption for me --- as long as I search my own needs, I will for ever be in a state of sin."

What I am trying to reflect here is to some extent the inescapability of sin: "There is none righteous, no not one." In the specific context, as I believe it was Whitehead said, "Life is perpetual theft." To a greater or lesser degree all of us live at the expense of other creatures --- both living creatures (and even vegetarians come under this; as one vegetarian friend of mine said, "I'm not a vegetarian because I love animals but because I hate plants"!) and inanimate creatures (we human beings are rapidly depleting the earth of many of its resources and doing a massive job of rearranging the molecules of former carbon-based life forms). We can attempt to do all in our power to limit the extent of our destructiveness, but some destruction is inescapable. Does this have a ring of Ecclesiastes?

And yes, as W.D. surmised, I intended this primarily as a guide to moral decision-making --- that is, to seek to minimize harm. (A hat tip to Hippocrates.) But in a positive sense, when it comes to relationships between human beings, the goal should be to see others not as a means to an end (that is, as a something to be used), but as an end in themselves (as a someone with whom to share joy). I reflected at greater length on this concept in my sermon for feast of Saint Aelred. A human relationship will naturally be a dance of give and take --- language we still use in the liturgy of matrimony. The goal is, as much as possible, to transform life itself from theft to gift.

The second part of my epigram said, "Virtue is asserting one's individuality on behalf of others." W. D. is correct that this relates to self-sacrifice, epitomized most perfectly in Jesus Christ. But I see this in the Johannine context in which Jesus places his self-giving precisely as an assertion of his identity and being: he is not a passive victim, but rather like the person who chooses to leap in the path of a bullet intended for someone else. This is where the language of my hour and I lay down my life... And I can take it up again (John 10:17-18) comes in.

I hate to appeal to paradox --- as paradox is often the last refuge of the inarticulate --- but what seems to be effective here is that one can become more perfectly what one is meant to be ("asserting one's individuality") by detachment or letting go, rather than clutching and possessing. Whoever seeks to save his life, loses it, while the one who gives his life gains it. If I am being paradoxical, I am in good company here.

In the long run, my epigram is an echo of Rabbi Hillel's famous dictum: "If I am not for myself who will be? But if I am only for myself what am I? And if not now, when?" It is, in short, an ethical balancing act in which the true moral goodness lies somewhere in that interface between the self and the other.

Finally, I also intend to this to inform the current discussions concerning the Anglican Communion --- the extent to which the identity of a church can be asserted and offered at the same time. I think the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion as a whole, for example, would be making a great mistake to bow to the pressure of some voices from the "Global South" in an effort to become something we are not. If we must suffer for being ourselves (or in being ourselves)--- and, meanwhile not insisting on having our own way in imposing our view on others (that is asserting our individuality at their expense) --- then the acceptance of this reality is a mark of virtue: the Episcopal Church is doing what it does in the belief that it is right and for the benefit of others; if others cannot accept that gift, or even more wish to punish us for having offered it, it is appropriate for us to accept the consequences of being who we are. And if not now, when?

--- Tobias Haller BSG

April 18, 2007

Sin and Virtue

Sin is asserting one’s individuality at the expense of others. Virtue is asserting one’s individuality on behalf of others. —Tobias Haller BSG

April 10, 2007

the new religion

a holy sonnet for airline security

One thing has now become completely clear:
the enemy of Faith’s not doubt, but fear.
Religion — as its role has always been,
is less to nourish Faith, than banish doubt —
now soothes our fear of those who are without:
the terrorists, those ominous foreign men
who, full of call and resolute self-will,
destroy themselves and countless others kill.

So a new caste of priests has been ordained,
that order and decorum be maintained;
and as on holy ground we doff our shoes,
while scrying augurs Samsonite peruse,
they wand us as we pass the airway gate —
baptized anew, and only slightly late.

Tobias Haller BSG
April 9, 2007

April 5, 2007


Remember, remember,
Come home, my scattered children!
Here’s bread to break
     and wine to drink.
Sit down and eat,
and I will wash your feet.

Remember, remember —
Sit still, my noisy children!
I'll speak the prayer
     and sing the song
that tells of glory.
Listen to the story.

Remember, remember?
Look at my hands, my children,
Look at my side:
I am your friend
     no longer dead
but known in broken bread.

— Tobias Stanislas Haller, BSG, 1994