July 28, 2008

William Reed Huntington

Today is the transferred feast of William Reed Huntington, the 99th anniversary of his death. He was renowned for a number of his writings and his patience as a pastor and teacher. Perhaps best known as the creator of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral, he was an optimist about the possibilities of the church holding varying views together in dynamic tension. I don't know what he would say about our present state of affairs, other than to deplore the divisions and to appeal for unity in spite of differences of opinion. Here is a brief passage from his 1891 book, Popular Misconceptions of the Episcopal Church, from the chapter, "That it is a house divided against itself..."

The great need of American Christianity is unification. The civil system of the country has been so knit together that we are able proudly to declare it "an indestructible Union of the indestructible States." Our commercial system also has become so completely welded, part with part, as to defy breakage. It is in the ecclesiastical system alone that we note the mortifying lines of fracture. One people as respects the administration of law, one people as respects the transaction of business, we are still many peoples as respects the endeavor to win supremacy for the faith of Christ. In religion, disintegration is our curse.

The new consciousness beginning to dawn in the heart and mind of the Episcopal Church is the consciousness of a special call to play an intercessory and mediatorial part in the needed work of a general reconciliation. What makes it possible for an Episcopalian to take this line of remark, without subjecting himself to any just charge of arrogance, is the fact that he bases his peace-making effort wholly upon historical, and not at all upon personal grounds. He does not say, "Trust us as reconcilers because our ecclesiastics are so much more astute, our theologians so much more profound, and our communicant members so much more devout, than yours." He simply says: "Look at the history of Anglican religion, as a history, and judge for yourselves whether it do not give evidence of a greater power of inclusiveness, a more promising facility at comprehending a large variety of types, both of character and of action, than any rival system..."
. . . . .
The unity of which American Christians are in search is a "live and let live" unity. They perceive that the shutting-out policy is what has brought us to our present broken estate. What they are reaching after is the Church that shall be intolerant of these two things, and of only these two things — first, wickedness; secondly, the denial of what is confessedly central to the faith. Purity of character, as estimated by the ethical standards of the New Testament; purity of belief, as tested by the primitive Creeds — these are the only points upon which a united American Church would find it needful to insist.

But the overtures ventured by the Episcopal Church in the matter of unity are met with merciless ridicule, on the ground that the theological divergences and party differences within its own borders are so marked as to have become notorious. "Physician, heal thyself!" Is the not unnatural rejoinder of those to whom Churchmen address their affectionate invitations to reunion.

I propose to meet this rejoinder by taking the ground that it is the existence of these very divergences alleged, and the continuance of their existence within the Anglican Communion, that gives to that communion its best right to make a plea it does....

I hope at some point to post the entire essay. For now, especially in light of the Lambeth Conference now in session, this should provide us enough food for thought.

Tobias Haller BSG


Anonymous said...

Well said indeed. As we seem to spiral further and further down the path in regards religious matters, such sentiments are indeed a breath of fresh air. I bemoan the increased rigidity I see in all too many Christian and non-Christian faiths. Who would have thought that the third war of all wars might well end up being more about religiousity than land?

rick allen said...

"Purity of character, as estimated by the ethical standards of the New Testament; purity of belief, as tested by the primitive Creeds — these are the only points upon which a united American Church would find it needful to insist."

Whether or not one agrees with this statement, it seems that the controversy within your communion is precisely over "purity of character, as estimated by the ethical standards of the New Testament." Whichever side is right--and both, of course, have good faith reasons to believe themselves to be applying the New Testament standard--this seems to be precisely the kind of controversy in which Rev.Huntington might understand an irresolvable controversy.

Anonymous said...

Holy William Reed, PRAY for us! :-0

Back in the 70s, there was a feminist cartoon where one harried woman said to another: "It's been another one of those 'All Struggle, No Unity' days."

Apropos Lambeth (and the murders of Unitarians in Tennessee), that's the way I feel right about now... :-/

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Rick, of course, this is where we disagree both as to the content and intent of the New Testament. Jesus consistently, and Paul at his best, articulated an ethic based on virtues of love, gentleness, charity, self-giving &c. That this consistent message has been missed by some, who instead seek to reimpose their reading of certain conflicted passages of the Law of Moses, or a tendentious reading of Genesis, is why we are where we are.

That, and the honesty factor. I dare say if your church had been more honest in its approach to the sexuality of its clergy down the years, She would have done the world and the larger church a very great favor indeed. I have known a number of good men who are Roman Catholic clergy, who live in that tension of life in the closet -- it does neither them nor the church any good. It is one of the tragedies of Christian history that a quirk of culture has become so wedded to a notion of righteousness as to render almost impossible, for a large portion of God's people, a life of true ethical purity and love.

Woe to those who call good evil -- that is the other half of the woe concerning those who call evil good.

Fr. Bryan Owen said...

This is a fantastic excerpt from one of my heroes of the Faith. Thanks for sharing it, Tobias (I just might have to steal it - with an appropriate hat/tip to you - for my own blog).

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks Bryan. I had not heard of this book prior to coming across it on Ebay and bidding on it. It isn't listed on the usual online book dealers. In any case, please feel free to use this; I hope to scan the whole small volume and make it available on-line, when I've more time!