May 17, 2008

Teeth and Consequences

As I’ve continued to review the Saint Andrew’s Draft Anglican Covenant, I’ve come to appreciate the positive changes in the first two sections more and more. The problem, of course, remains in the potentially mischievous disciplinary clauses in section 3.2.5. As I’ve noted on the previous draft, having an out-clause in a covenant is like having a pre-nuptial agreement signed along with the wedding register. No priest should allow such an action, as it is a clear indication of defective intent: how can one swear to unity while providing for division?

So I suggest that if we simply remove section 3.2.5 and its subsections, and the overly complicated appendix of discipline to which it refers, we will be left with something actually worthy of the name, Covenant.

Some will say that this removes the Covenant’s teeth. But why should a covenant have teeth? Didn’t Paul warn the Galatians about the danger of “biting and devouring one another” rather than following the law of love? The rest of the covenant amply lays out the concepts of loving mutual responsibility, service and mission — and if that is not enough to keep us together, no disciplinary threats will make us into what we are called to be.

Teeth are for eating, and in this case, like the serpent Ouroboros — the snake that eats its own tail, the symbol of simultaneous self-destruction and self-possession, alone and insensate in the emptiness of self, as Plato said — these punitive measures will only lead to self-obsession, rather than the self-forgetfulness to which Christ calls us.

Tobias Haller BSG


June Butler said...

Tobias, I'd agree with you wholeheartedly but for these two statements: ensure that biblical texts are handled faithfully, respectfully, comprehensively and coherently, primarily through the teaching and initiative of bishops and synods,....

...the central role of bishops as guardians and teachers of faith, leaders in mission, and as a visible sign of unity, representing the universal Church to the local, and the local Church to the universal.

I fully accept the role of bishops in governance and continuity, but as to their teaching role, I don't see the bishops as having a special charism for teaching more so than the other orders and the laity. I see these statements as an attempt to draw the Communion into a type of centralization than has not been operative previously. Of course, I could be wrong.

With that caveat, if you could get your words here out to the US bishops....

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Dear Mimi,
I take your point, and admit that those clauses in the present draft are far from perfect; noting that the "teaching office" in Anglicanism traditionally belongs to the presbyters (as described in the Ordination rites). But I'm happy to give the bishops a role of leadership as long as it is tempered by the ability of the rest of the church to offer its correction to the bishops from time to time! After all, the capacity to teach is not always accompanied by an ability to declare that teaching to be the only truth -- thanks to the Anglican principle that councils (being made up of fallible folk) can err.

The distinction I am pressing is that we may, as an Episcopal church, be "led" by bishops, yet we are "governed" by a mix of bishops, clergy and laity. In the same way, I can declare the President (incumbent or future) is the "leader" of the US, but not the sole locus of government, TBTG!

Anonymous said...

As I understand it, the role of teacher was central to the role of the bishop in the early Church, as far back as the concept of "bishop" itself goes: the bishop began to separate from the ordinary priest because only the Bishop (or his delegate/deputy) "celebrated" the Liturgy of the Word whereas every priest celebrated the Liturgy of the Eucharist. (And, yes, I know I'm applying a modern categorization to practices of the 2nd and 3rd century CE. But I'm just trying to make the point clear.)
Of course, in those times, there seem to have been many more bishops, and therefore presumably far smaller dioceses. I think the Nicene Council was attended by about the same number of bishops, almost all from the Eastern Roman Empire, as will be attending Lambeth to represent the Anglican Communion worldwide. So the impact of an individual bishop as teacher was considerably less, outside of his own personal prestige.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thank you, Kishnevi. The early history of the separation of the offices of presbyter and bishop are murky -- and it is well to remember that up until Vatican II the latter was held to be a "higher" form of the former (modeled on the notion of priest vs high priest). In any case, there has been a good deal of water under the Milvian Bridge since then. Suffice it to say that even though our ordinal rests the function of service with the deacon, teaching with the priest and unity with the bishop, still one hopes that the service and teaching carry through to the episcopate! I do grow concerned when some suggest the teaching office "belongs" to the bishops, as if they alone were teachers -- but as long as the Faithful keep watch, I hope the leaders of all sorts will be willing to engage with humility and willingness to accept correction and reason whatever the source.

Country Parson said...

Well done Tobias. More later.

Anonymous said...

I am the last person to offer opinions based on scholarship of the early church. My concern with the teaching ministry of Bishops is purely practical. A Bishop's teaching ministry is not as visible to this guy in the pew simply because I don't get to see them very often, and they are much less likely to have blogs. A parish priest plays a much more prominent role in the education of the average churchgoer.

Brother David said...

I guess my concept of bishop, in relation to priests, is a bit mythic, if not romantic.

I have subscribed to the idea that the bishop was the original pastor, and so teacher, of the local assembly. As the primitive Church attracted more converts, the assembly grew. The bishop then appointed presbyters to assist in ministering to the flock, but retained the role of chief pastor and teacher.

As the membership in a geographical area increased, especially after the church became more visible, processions would start early on Sunday mornings, in the outlying areas, or suburbs, as folks made their way to the central church for the service. As the processions progressed closer to the church they were getting larger as more folks joined and as processions combined as they met at crossroads, culminating in the grand entrance of all the people into the church to begin the service, presided over by their bishop.

When the church population became unwieldy for the central church, the bishop authorized suburban congregations, meeting for services in buildings central to their neighborhoods and presided over by the presbyters, but ultimately overseen by the bishop, chief pastor and teacher, in what eventually became recognized as the diocese surrounding the bishop's see in the central local church.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Dear David,
Your analysis matches mine very closely, as to the process by which we gradually went from the Bishop at the center of the assembly to the parish priest. I've long thought that the later "parish priesthood" derives more from the suburban "chorepiscopus" (= country bishop) than from the college of presbyters who sat around the bishop in the metropolis like the chapter of a modern cathedral. Anglicanism of course added a monastic twist to it all -- a fitting reminder on St Dunstan's Day!