July 1, 2008

Thought for 07.01.08

Spurred by reading Bishop Pierre Whalon's fine essay:

Ecclesiology revolves around the difference between what the church is, as opposed to how it is administered. These are really two entirely different things, as different as Humanity (which is one, inclusive, and global) and Government (which is diverse, particular, and local.) It is the old dichotomy between being and doing. Perhaps if we acted more as we are, we would be better off, both in the world and the church.

Tobias Haller BSG


Unknown said...

Well, Tobias, that was what was happening in the Diocese of Virginia with the parishes discernment process following the Bishop of Virginia's Protocol for Departing Congregations. It was an amazing - very difficult, very painful - but still an amazing process of pressing forward into what Bishop Lee described as remaining in as close communion as possible. We were trying - certainly I was - to move to a safer and less toxic place.

It still confounds and astonishes me that 815 intervened in such a way that the entire process - which had been a witness of how we do church even in conflict - and burned the bridges that connected us. I still do not understand. The suing by both 815 and Mayo House of nearly 200 lay volunteers and their rectors was equally shocking and as we've seen in the recent rulings in court, TEC has not been able to make the case. So why do they continue - especially since we were heading to the negotiation table when the Diocese walked away?

The Primates have told 815 to suspend their lawsuits and 815 refuses to do so. I think that the rest of this talk is just pining away at the windmills - and trust is so broken it may take generations to restore.

But I keep reading your blog and hoping for something better.


Anonymous said...

The wonderful paradox is that if concentration is on "being", the "doing" simply takes care of itself. Of course, I'm a contemplative monk, but that is even true with prayer itself-- to see prayer as a "state" of being rather than as a "thing to do".

Service to those in need, witnessing against injustice, caring for those who need care ---all of those are automatically (and even unconsciously and unintentionally) the product of concentrating on "being".

I think it was Thomas Merton who said something like: "Just BE with Christ and without doubt you will serve others."

Paul Bagshaw said...

But here I must take issue.

Faith is, of necessity, embodied and enacted. What the church 'is' can only be seen in what the church does. And if what the church does is at odds with its self-description then such dissonance will need to be addressed. (Dissonance can be worked out in a variety of ways: motivationally, for example, as we strive to attain holiness, or demoralising as hypocrisies paralyse responsible action.)

The church corporately embodies faith and, as such, both ought to express the best of discipleship and actually reveals the reality of discipleship.

The administration of the church is inseparable from the nature of the church. It may be distinquishable from discourse about the church - in which case I would question the point of largely disembodied discourse.

And to answer my own question before you have time to draw breath: 'blueprint' ecclesiology, whether broad brush or detailed, is seldom other than a political statement in an ecclesiastical context.

(Now I'll go and read the essay that sparked your observation.)

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...


My response is that the parishioners were always free to walk away, but in the Episcopal Church, as in the C of E, and in the Anglican (and Catholic) Tradition generally, there has long been a clearly established understanding that "the church" is not merely any one generation, free to do with the property as they will. It is held in trust. The ideas advanced by CANA concerning both parallel jurisdictions and the removal of property are the novelty here -- a fact which Judge Bellows clearly didn't grasp. So the larger church needs to press on, sadly, in order to preserve this sense of what the church is -- a national body, not simply a gathering of congregations free to affiliate as they will. We are an episcopal church, not a congregational one.

FWIW, I think the "Departing Congregations" should have been free to purchase property at a fair market value; but they have no entitlement to the property apart from that, and seeking to remove it without compensation to the larger church. "Doing" so is not being true to what we "are" as a church.

I too hope for better things, but I fear that the loss of trust the national church, and the majority, feel towards those who become a law unto themselves, act unconstitutionally and refuse to accept the considered decisions of the General Convention, is not being helped by continued appeals to the Primates, who have no authority in this or any other matter outside their own provinces. This is, after all, what the English Reformation was about -- no foreign bishops having authority in England; and it is very odd to see the GAFCONites appeal to the 39 Articles while violating one of its most important principles.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Paul B., my intent is to give honor to the fact that I believe the church is one, holy, catholic and apostolic, and consists of all of the baptized; and at the same time recognize that the church has been from the beginning (Peter and Paul, at least) and always will be to some extent divided in its administration -- and that this is not a bad thing as people always seem to say; as I've noted before, perhaps these useful divisions serve the greater purposes of God in bringing the word where it might otherwise not go.

So yes, the two will always go together (I did not mean to suggest otherwise, as if there were some "invisible" church apart from the church that actually "is") but that the church that "is" is also divided on matters of administration, national boundaries, culture, and in some cases even beliefs. Working together, even while under different administrations, seems to me to be the best way forward -- and the problem is that BabyBlue's folks don't want to work with us; that's the whole point: we have better relationship with the Lutherans than the Nigerian Anglicans!

Paul Bagshaw said...

A slightly more considered comment, though still, I'm afraid, somewhat jumbled:

As I suspected Bp Whalon is setting out a political agenda in the guise of an ecclesiology. (Confirmation is in the penultimate paragraph where he asserts 'The distinctive Anglican ecclesiology that must become clearer..' - The 'must' is ambiguous but can only be an assertion of his characterisation of the Anglican character against other agendas, other versions of 'distinctive Anglican ecclesiology'.)

His reasoning is almost devoid of history, of grounding in the facts of Anglican church life past and present. For example, in addressing the CofE's 'unique' (and surely every denomination is unique in this regard) response to dissonance over the marks of the church, he gives the impression that an answer was achieved by reasoning theologians. There is no mention of Henry VIII and his political-marital problems, nor Edward or Mary, nor the Elizabethan settlement and the ejection and persecution of the Puritans. Politics and pragmatism were much bigger elements than holy deliberation.

(I sense that the essay can be summed up in the unfashionable term 'Providence' in which Anglicanism is specially favoured of God.)

Coming later in time Bp Whalon commends the Anglican Communion for both its ecumenical work and its comprehensiveness. He omits to mention that the initial agenda of the Oxford Movement was neither ecumenical or comprehensive but was to 'unProtestantize' the Church. Still, what goes around, comes around.

As it happens I very largely agree with the substance of the good Bishop's agenda - but not that it is adequate as ecclesiology.

Ecclesiology is not simply politics in borrowed clothes, it has a more specific role: to give adequate legitimation to certain structures and actions in the Church (and to deny legitimacy to others) - hence the emphasis on the role of bishops who mediate ecclesiology from ideology (a term Bp Whalon abuses)into practice. And as a legitimating discourse ecclesiology is as often done retrospectively as prospectively. (I would guess for example, though I haven't looked, that 'comprehensiveness' was a retrospective acceptance that no wing of the church was powerful enough to expel the others - thus making a virtue of necessity.

The 'mystery' of the church, I suggest, is more often its capacity to forget, occlude and look away from its history and material reality than it is a reflection of the mystery of God.

Anonymous said...

Of course, Tobias; but we might just as well say - and, for that matter, with far more significance - that in the Catholic Tradition generally, there has long been a clearly established understanding that "the church" is not merely any one generation, free to do with our understanding of the Faith as they will. To put a finer point on it, this has a centrality to the Catholic Tradition that property does not, and never did, yet ECUSA has sidelined the integrity of the former in favor of the latter. It's ironic to read you commenting about broken trust on your side, when the opposite is the truth.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

No, Phil, it isn't ironic at all that I should cite catholic tradition.

It is the effort to elevate a fairly late understanding of Christian marriage to the level of a "once for all" that is the irony here.

Two things:

One, the very idea that sexual morality is a question of "the Faith" is mistaken. It is a question of moral, not dogmatic, theology. And while the former remains constrained by the limits of the credenda (the Creeds, which are a "sufficient summary of the Faith" -- and which don't mention morality at all!) Christian moral theologians have properly related new understandings of the world in conjunction with the witness of Scripture to come to better understandings of the moral locus of morality in marriage and sexuality: fidelity and mutuality, not anatomy. So while important, this is not about "the Faith."

Second, you might well be surprised to discover what the contemporary view of sex was in the Nicene era; and to find that many things married couples now take for granted were forbidden and penalized in the early church; or what other matters of moral theology have changed since that time. Moral teaching changes -- while doctrine doesn't. Jesus is the same, yesterday today and forever -- but few things have changed in Christian history as much as the teaching on marriage. We are now simply engaged in another period of change.

You are also mistaken as to the centrality of property and jurisdiction in the Catholic Tradition: it was central enough for the Nicene Council to rule on it. Still, I would say this is not a matter of the Faith, either; but of polity. And such things change, it's true -- but we've not changed on this matter. Perhaps we are in the process of doing so. But while the church's teaching on sexual morality has evolved considerably over the generations (even in the Roman Church, which now allows practices once forbidden), the catholic practices on property and episcopal jurisdiction have remained rather constant -- so which of these is more "central" to the tradition is a matter of easy evidence.

[I won't here go into the many evolutions of Christian teaching on sexual morality, mostly consisting of pardons granted by the majority to its own behaviors down the years (rather like the changing laws of Animal Farm -- the most recent being liberalization of policies on marriage after divorce -- but you are welcome to peruse the record in works such as Brundage's massive opus on the subject. He only goes up to the eve of the Reformation, and there's been a lot of change since then.]

Fr. Bryan Owen said...

What a fantastic essay by Bishop Whalon! Reading it, I'm almost brought to tears by how beautifully it pinpoints the essentials of what it means for Anglicans to be the Church. For me, this is a powerful affirmation that it is truly meet and right to believe and practice the Christian faith as an Episcopalian shaped by and indebted to the Anglican tradition.