April 29, 2009

Comprehending that Wonderful and Sacred Mystery

I commend to your attention a statement on the nature of the church, with guideposts to its stability, growth, and mission, found at a new blog aptly named Comprehensiveness for the Sake of Truth. It provides a stable foundation for further building.

As I have reflected in the past, the only way to be sure we have comprehended truth is to lay hold of the One who is Truth. That comprehension is as much if not more so a matter of love than of knowledge. However wide the reach of our embrace, our ultimate hope is to fall into the outstretched arms of a loving God.

I invite you to read the document, which serves as an expansion of the Lambeth Quadrilateral with the addition of two more points of reference (our common liturgy and mission).

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

ps. at the end of the statement is a link to send an email to subscribe your name, parish and diocese.

April 28, 2009

Thought for 04.28.09

(inspired by a comment in the previous thread — thanks, Fred!)

The Insufficient Quad

The Lambeth Quadrilateral, though originally conceived as a tool to broaden the reach of ecumenical relations between Anglicans and other Christians, eventually came to be seen as a helpful tool in ordering our own Anglican household. It has not proven to be sufficient for some in this regard.

  • They not only want (rightly) to give pride of place to the Scriptures, but the their specific understanding of the Scriptures.
  • They also want to add to the credenda items in the past uniformly held to be questions of pastoral theology, not dogmatic or systematic theology.
  • They want to place extra emphasis on two of the sacramental rites (marriage and ordination) rather than focusing on the two Dominical sacraments.
  • And finally, they do not want to respect one specific local adaptation in the office of bishop to meet the needs of particular communities.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

April 27, 2009

Thought for 04.27.09

"Constituent member of the Anglican Communion" in the Preamble to the Constitution of the Episcopal Church doesn't mean, "TEC ceases to be Anglican (or itself!) if it leaves or is expelled from the Anglican Communion." Rather it means that the Anglican Communion will cease to be what it was if one of its primary constituents is forcibly removed. The Preamble, added to the Constitution in 1967, affirmed a historical fact: TEC is among the first entities to stand as an autonomous church apart from the Church of England, a process that gave rise to the Anglican Communion itself. That is, the Episcopal Church was among the first bodies to be "in communion with the See of Canterbury" and autonomously governed — that is, not under the governance of the See of Canterbury (or, more precisely, the Church of England).

What McCall & Co. mistakenly claim for the dioceses of TEC is actually true of TEC in relation to the Communion.

—Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

April 26, 2009


My view, laid out somewhat tongue in cheek in the previous post, is that a diocese's signing the covenant is essentially irrelevant to whether they are part of the Anglican Communion or not. Didn't Dr. Radner say Southern Baptists could sign if they wanted to? The whole enterprise in the long Bishops' Statement appears to have little to do with the supposed goal -- remaining part of the Anglican Communion.

It is hardly necessary to argue (in the face of the obvious) that TEC is not hierarchical in order for a diocese to sign a statement such as the proposed Covenant. That is, dioceses not being autonomous -- in that they must follow the Constitution and Canons of the General Convention, and are governed by those laws -- what, in the Covenant, is contrary to the Constitution and Canons of our church? I don't see what all the fuss and bother is, on either side.

I do see a good deal of lawyerly piling up of irrelevance to "make a case" for diocesan autonomy on counselor McCall's part, but that's another matter. The case he made, bad as it is, might have a pernicious effect sooner down the road than the Covenant coming to fruition. All the talk about the Covenant may be nothing more than a smoke-screen anyway -- read the earlier ACI statement of March 12 (St Gregory must have taken a turn in his tomb) where the idea of diocesan autonomy is more clearly linked to the litigation taking place (or due to take place) in a number of dioceses — a topic bruited upon in the email thread gone public.

This is the real issue, not the Covenant. Pay attention, folks. Remember how sleight of hand works.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

April 25, 2009

Inclusion and the Litmus of Communion

The Church Times has a great headline for a story:

Covenant is to be used as litmus test of Anglicanism

Well, it's about time, I say. I've always wanted to know if Anglicanism is acid or base. I've always thought, a little bit of both, but if I'm remembering my high-school chemistry (we were just emerging from alchemistry at the time) that would lead to salt and water. Tears before bedtime?

Meanwhile, I'm beginning to wonder if the right answer isn't just, "Let anyone sign who wants to!" TEC, sign up. Individual dioceses -- be our guest. The long and tedious ACI essay I commented on below, if all it was really meant to accomplish is to make a case for individual dioceses signing the covenant if they want -- well, why not? It doesn't take autonomy (which dioceses don't have) to accept the terms of the covenant, especially with the language of section four (according to the gloss by Dr. Radner) to mean that the Southern Baptists could sign if they want to. Come on, Mexico. You too, Canada. Let's all be documented Anglicans, eh? Nothing could more quickly rob the proposed Covenant of its (surmised and fading) exclusivist intents than for all to adopt it.

Let those with pens to sign, sign.

— Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
(to be taken with a grain of Anglican salt...)

April 24, 2009

Reasonable and Holy: The Index

I've posted a pdf of the General Index to Reasonable and Holy. Copies of the book are at the warehouse and being shipped. I expect those who ordered from Amazon will also be getting copies shortly.

Reasonable and Holy: General Index

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

April 22, 2009

BS from ACI

The self-styled Anglican Communion Institute has issued a Bishops' Statement designed to bolster the notion that the individual dioceses of the Episcopal Church are not only independent, but "autonomous." Isn't it strange for those so keen on limiting provincial claims to autonomy to so willingly parse it down to the next level?

For, the claims of the long and tedious paper notwithstanding, there are different levels. The General Convention is superior to any given individual diocese, and establishes laws that limit what the dioceses can do. The fact that this limitation comes about because of the agreement of the dioceses acting together in Convention is not an indication of their individual autonomy -- as the paper suggests -- but is rather proof of their submission to the jointly taken actions of the whole body. This is really a basic principle, well laid out in Hooker's Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity. Once the larger body has taken a decision, dissent is quelled. (See especially the Preface, "Of the need of some kind of authority.")

This is what a hierarchical entity looks like: the constituents agree to be bound by the decisions of the group, even when they are in the minority, and disagree with the decisions. They relinquish their autonomy in order to be part of a larger entity, to whose decisions they submit.

The paper also makes the curious argument that because the dioceses (then states) that formed the original Episcopal Church were independent prior to entering into union with each other, they somehow maintain that independence. This neglects the significance of what union means. One might just as well say that because a couple were single before marriage that they retain their independence afterward. It can also be pointed out that the Constitution of the US also lacks reference to its own indissolubility -- and uses the same word, union, to capture that concept, a concept later proved on the battlefield and in the courts.

The paper also ignores basic facts concerning the government of the Episcopal Church that do not fit its thesis. For example, the disciplinary canons' list of offenses makes violation of the Constitution and Canons of the General Convention an offense, and any clergy person, including a bishop, is amenable to trial on that account. In the case of a bishop, the trial necessarily involves the larger church, outside the confines of the diocese. The court structure itself is plainly hierarchical, and higher courts can overrule lower courts. When it comes to matters concerning the trial of a bishop, the General Convention may "establish" an "ultimate" court of review in matters of doctrine, faith and worship. How can something be "ultimate" if there is no hierarchy?

Given the many authorities constitutionally assigned to General Convention in relation to the admission, division, and so on, of dioceses, it seems to be kicking at goads to say there is no authority implied in language such as consent, accept, prescribe, approve, &c., on the side of General Convention, and of accede on the side of the diocese. The article tries to make a case for unqualified accession meaning something other than "to become a party to an agreement without reservation." The fact that the term is used in treaties and other serious contracts in no way lessens its force as signifying assent and acceptance of the terms!

When we look at the worship and doctrinal life of the Episcopal Church, it is abundantly clear that dioceses are not autonomous in either regard, except in very narrowly prescribed limits: and it is the Constitution and the General Convention that set those limits. This is a clear indication of hierarchy, which includes the mandatory use of the Book of Common Prayer as adopted by General Convention, not to be amended or altered by diocesan authority (though a bishop may supplement it in specified circumstances.)

In short, the idea that dioceses are autonomous, and not part of a clearly defined hierarchy, is entirely specious. That our hierarchy is not as rigid or monolithic as that of, say, the Holy Catholic Church of Rome, and has a more federal1 structure, in no way alters the fact that there is a central governing body, which, even if it be made up entirely of representatives of the several dioceses, is a body to which those dioceses covenant to submit themselves, without qualification. After all, an individual diocese cannot even elect2 a bishop of its own without the consent of the rest of the church, either through General Convention, or (apart from its sessions) by a vote of the other diocesan bishops and standing committees.

One of the most significant facts the paper neglects is that most of the original dioceses (or "states") that went to form the Episcopal Church at the outset, did not have bishops at the time -- with a few exceptions they were "dioceses" in formation, lacking the episcopate which would only come by later action of the Episcopal Church, once they were part of it. (Surely it is strange to find scholars with such a high view of the episcopate argue that a diocese can really be a diocese in the fullest sense without a bishop! Yes, there is an ecclesiastical authority in a bishop's absence -- but one that is sorely curtailed from exercising any and all of the episcopal functions that reside in a person, not a committee.)

So while it is true that the Episcopal Church has a kind of democratic (or republican) hierarchy -- but it is hierarchical: the dioceses do not rule themselves -- that is, they are not autonomous.

So let's stop all this nonsense about free-floating dioceses, please.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

Updated clarifications:

1. Note that I say more federal. Dr. Dator has argued that our structure is even more centralized and unitary than federal. I use the term here only in the sense of strongly centralized.

2. Consent is required both for the ordination of bishops, and, in the case of coadjutors (which is now more the rule than the exception) for permission to hold the election itself. I have conflated the language a bit here, but the fact is that no one becomes a bishop in the Episcopal Church without the consent of the wider church.

April 20, 2009

Fear, Loathing, and Lying

As New York and New Jersey gear up to be the next battlegrounds in "defense of marriage" I am more and more struck by the emotional edge to so much of the opposition to same-sex marriage. After the Iowa decision, I read comments from opponents filled with bitterness, people literally weeping in anguish.

The time is long past to pretend that homophobia is not the underlying issue here. Defined as "an irrational fear of homosexuality" I can't help but see the label sticks. The shoe fits so well that the sole is almost worn through. And for those who claim using this term is a discussion-stopper, let me know when the discussion has begun.

It's no use trying to have a rational discussion when people are acting irrationally. It is difficult to encourage people not to be afraid when they are acting in fear. And these two components of the homophobia complex are clearly in play in the current go-round.

One need not look far to find fear and irrationality: the rushed-to-market video ad from the National Organization for Marriage is a superb example. Don't tell me no fear is involved in the portrayal of a near-apocalyptic thunderstorm in the background, as well as in the whining complaints of the actors. Who feel the need to "defend" against something of which they have no fear?

Then there's the irrationality, the emotionality, of the responses. Of course, there is also the lying. Check out a video that unmasks the falsehoods and false witness behind NOM's bathetic ad. Why is it that supposedly upstanding citizens and self-proclaimed Christians will violate such a basic ethical and moral principle as "thou shalt not bear false witness" in their misguided defense of the institution of marriage? Why claim to be taking the moral high ground by digging in the basement? Something is afoot when people violate such basic ethical keystones of their own creed.

Which brings me to my last thoughts on this: What are they really afraid of? What marriages are in need of defense?

I think they are showing the fear so basic to human nature in the knowledge of its own weaknesses:

If this were to become acceptable I'm afraid it might become compulsory. Remember Dodgson's little girl: "I'm so glad I don't like asparagus, because if I did like it I should have to eat it, and I can't bear it."

If this were to become acceptable, I might actually be forced to face my own inner conflicts and desires, which I lack the power to control. Saint Paul would have recognized this. He also knew the power of amazing grace, to overcome his fears.

So what marriages really need defending? Perhaps the ones in which the husband or the wife are living in the closet or on the down-low, and they fear that greater toleration of what they conceal may open the doors or raise its visibility. How much of the fear is internalized homophobia? We may never know. On second thought, I think we will, some day. When the books are opened, and what is said in secret is shouted from the rooftops, it will be known. It will all be known.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

April 18, 2009

Off the Press

I'm happy to report that Reasonable and Holy is off the press, and in keeping with Doubting Thomas Sunday I can attest I have actually touched and handled a copy courtesy of my angel and editor Susie Erdey.

My hope is that this volume can be a contribution to the "listening process" that the Lambeth Conference commended.

I've also set up a separate blog aptly named Reasonable and Holy, where I'm posting some additional resources (such as index material) and where I hope to focus some further discussion and comment.

Meanwhile, blessed Easter 2!

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

April 16, 2009

Mything Persons (3)

Myth is not only the native language of faith, it is the native language of language.

By that I mean that all language, however blunt or pointed, however plain or simple, consists of symbols, in which this is not that but stands for that. Who can forget the eloquent enactment of this in The Miracle Worker — the breakthrough into a new world of meaning, when Helen Keller finally grasped the concept of concepts and their signification — and gained entry to that human and humane world from which she had been isolated. And it is no accident that the first word she learned was water.

Language itself is then a kind of mythology in miniature, a world of symbols as rich and mysterious as that of nature, which Baudelaire described as a murmuring forest. The very act of saying that chair — this smudge of ink on a page, or flashing and impermanent illumination of patterned phosphors (or more likely, diodes), can stand for the thing I sit upon — or, if you are French, for the very substance of your body (a word made flesh indeed) — is a minor act of mythmaking.

Which brings me to the reminder that the world came to be through the Word, who was in the beginning — source and font not only of all that is, but of all the ways and means by which we grasp after reality with our minds. All of theology is finding words for God, as Bishop John Robinson reminded us, of finding the logos for theos. And that act is in itself a form of symbolic myth-making, for no word can contain the Word who is God.

I am also reminded of the Hebrew roots in all of this: that dabar means “thing” as much as “word” — and the power of God to create was manifest as God spoke the world into being.

Which brings me back to myth and magic: the favorite spell of the stage magician, abracadabra, is a corruption of the Hebrew, “I create as I speak.” As poets have long known, language can build a world in the imagination, but it can also constitute a world in reality, and make the real world a better or a worser place, enriched or impoverished as the case may be.

To think we can (or should or would want to) live without myths is a fable.

— Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG


Mything Persons (2)

It is no accident that the mid-to-late 19th century catch-up with the Enlightenment on the part of the mainstream protestants (higher criticism, etc.) coincided with the rise in popular interest in the Gothick and Magick. Nor is it unfair to observe that the flourishing of Bultmann's agenda of demythologizing, and the "death of God" coincided with the sudden appearance of flying saucers. Such is our hunger for the Transcendent Other that we will give into consuming that which is not wholesome if we lack what is. The hubris of claiming to understand the incomprehensible, to whittle the divine down to solely human dimension (neglecting that all-important Other nature in the person of Jesus, who is not just us-writ-large but God-made-present), the quest for the merely historical instead of the sacred story -- these were among the greatest missteps in the church's earthly pilgrimage. We buried our treasure in a field.

—Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

April 15, 2009

Mything Persons

In thinking all matters of faith could be demythologized, the church ceded territory now inhabited by secular angels and devils, the vampires of Twilight and a Risen Elvis. The church's retreat from a transformative and nourishing mythic language and liturgy has reduced the menu choices to the thin broth of rationalism or the fast food of fundamentalism.

&mdash Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

April 11, 2009

Vidi Aquam

Synthesized with the East West Symphonic Choirs. The original is for men's choir, but this is realized up an octave to take advantage of the East/West boychoir samples, which are quite lovely. The realization is not perfect, but still astounding tech and fun; and it gives one an idea of what it might sound like if a real choir sang it. Any takers? I can provide the sheet music as a pdf...

Here is the text:

I saw water flowing from the right side of the temple, Alleluia.
And it brought to people everywhere God's life and his salvation, Alleluia.
And the people sang in joyful praise, Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.
Give thanks to the Lord for he is good; *
his mercy endures for ever.
Glory to...
I saw water...

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

MP3 File

April 6, 2009

Meditationes Viam Crucis

Themes of the Passion hymns are woven together with impressions of the mockery of the crowds, as the Servant King makes the perfect offering of himself for the salvation of the world. Drawing its musical inspiration from fractured versions of traditional Paschal hymnody, but culminating in a hopeful realization of O Traurigkeit:

O Jesus blest, my help and rest
with tears I pray thee, hear me;
now, and even unto death,
dearest Lord, be near me.

—Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

MP3 File

April 4, 2009


Ideas are not true because they are old, though they may be old because they are true. The paradox is that how long a given idea has been around is of no use in proving its truth, and past staying-power is not cause for something to continue to stay.

Tradition is not self-certifying evidence of truth, but a testament to those who passed along what they believe to be true. All things being equal, we ought certainly defer to timeworn truths — but the moment a persuasive argument can be made for change, the fact that something remained unchanged prior to the new argument cannot be used in its defense. New evidence always takes us back to the question itself.

That new evidence may arise not from a new fact arising, but from a new way of seeing the question — whether a social construct or a novel philosophical paradigm. And in the long run, the truth itself — the dogma or theory — may remain relatively untouched, but be understood and expressed in new ways. The best and most vital doctrines — the deepest truths — are capable of such costume changes.

But just as antiquity is no proof of truth, neither is novelty. There are bad old ideas and new ones. Each and all must be tested with the best tools we have at hand.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG