March 31, 2010

No To Imperium

Jesus Christ did not suffer and die for the sake of a centrally administered eccelesiastical institution. Nor was this what he conceived; quite the opposite, as he alerted his disciples to the danger of exercising authority over one another. Christ desired no Empire.

The Church, the Body of Christ, is not One because it has one central government, but because Christ himself is One Lord. He is the Head of the whole Church of which all who are joined in the One Baptism are members.

It is a terrible thing to see Anglicans even consider forsaking the hard-won liberation from heteronomous rule, in a massive retrograde motion towards that which is demonstrably dysfunctional in its present incarnation, the relic of an ancient capitulation to imperial pretense.

For it is precisely in areas of administration and discipline that big ungainly systems tend to go awry, and resist correction. Since all humans err from time to time, the surest safeguard both for limiting the extent of error and avoiding becoming too set in error is to bound the limits up to which any given authority can command submission to its rule. Diversity will not guarantee a firm or universal hold on truth (or even virtue) by all but it increases the chances that at least some will be right and righteous, rather than all stumbling and erring together.

Autonomy is not the enemy of fellowship. It is its precondition: for only the mature and independent can choose voluntarily to enter into relationships of interdependence and truly mutual submission. Otherwise it is dependence or codependency, or at its worst, tyranny or lordship of one over another, or over many.

Christ had no wish to see his Church become a shadow of some royal curia, full of intrigue and denial. Anglicans, do not trade the sublime vision of a communion of autonomous churches in fellowship for such a kingdom of shreds and patches.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG


Adam Wood said...

When this post started, I thought sure it was about the Roman Catholic Church. Ah- there's a tag to suggest that, but you're talking about the coming Anglican schism/unification (odd that one act could do both).

Anyway- you should have come right out and said what you were implying:
The current scandal in the Roman Catholic Church should be instructive for those who mean to recreate their structure (And their politics).

And besides- if autonomy is not valued (or women and gay people), why not just rejoin Rome. The new rule is: bring your rites, bring your flocks, bring your sexism, and EVEN bring your wives. What more could they want?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks, Adam. Sometimes I like to veil things a bit, but you saw my points very clearly.

The only reason I didn't pin it down too specifically is that I think it has broader applications than just the current Anglican or Roman Catholic problems. The principle of diversity goes beyond just today. I think it is what God wants! I mean, why have such a diversity of life, instead of monocultures? (The same dangers apply to loss of species diversity and agricultural dependency on a few strains of plant.)

IT said...

I think that is true of all institutions, secular as well as ecclesiastical. Once it becomes entrenched, its purpose is its self-preservation, not its constituent members.

R said...

After all, if God intended submission without autonomy, the world would be a very different place than it is.

Bravo, as always, Tobias!

Fr. J said...

Your point is well taken about the way in which massive amounts of centralized power cannot help but create situations in which that power is abused. But does your critique apply equally to The Episcopal Church, and specifically to the way in which the Presiding Bishop has been expanding the authority of her office? You've written before on here that you disagree vigorously with the claims of ACI and others that dioceses of this church are autonomous. But if you really believe what you've written here, wouldn't it make sense to have autonomous dioceses held accountable to each other through collegiality and common worship and doctrine rather than a centralized system in which the General Convention is absolute in its mandates and the Presiding Bishop is the supreme authority for interpreting and enforcing those mandates?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks, IT. As I noted in my first comment, it is also true in biology and agriculture. Life is not uniform, but diverse.

Thanks, R. Christ is the supreme example in this as in so much else -- the perfect self is the one that can lay that self down in the service of others.

Fr. J., my point of view on this is that the "National or Provincial Church" is at the ideal balance point between a loose federation of self-governing dioceses (or congregations) and a "world church." It appears to me (and from the historical record, before the expansion of Roman authority in the West in the late M.A.) that this has been the equilibrium point for most Christian churches until the inventions of Calvinism and congregationalism. It is all about scale -- individual dioceses are insufficient in themselves or to themselves -- it takes three bishops to make a bishop. A world church becomes cumbersome and unable to flex across cultures. (Don't we know it!)

Nor do I quite agree that the PB has become a "supreme authority" or GC "absolute." I'm reading Wm. White's Memoirs just now, and I think he spells out the concern for balance such as the Episcopal Church seeks -- not always successfully. It may be that after two rather laizzez-faire PBs (Browning and Griswold) we are swinging back to a more, dare I say, outspoken and clear leader, not unlike John Allen in form, if not content.

However, be that as may be, I would prefer we back off a bit on the national scale, and empower the dioceses a bit more -- so long as they abide by the canons and don't attempt secession! After all, subsidiarity was a concept embraced by the founders of PECUSA (though not under that word.) But not to be a "national or provincial church" seems to me to err in the direction of congregationalism as much as the Anglican Communion Institute, and it seems The Living Church, err in the direction of curialism.

Paul said...

The issue of the mature and independent choosing voluntarily to practice mutual submission points to the model in Whose image we are created, that of the Holy Trinity. To act from freedom and power and choose, for love, to seek always the good of the other, is a pattern radically different from that of empire. Your comments do, indeed, have broader implications than current debates about the Anglican Communion and the Roman Church.

June Butler said...

In my first years in the Episcopal Church, I wished for the reigns of authority to be a bit tighter, because the way TEC functioned seemed messy to me. No surprise since I came from Rome. However, I've moved away from that position, but not toward a desire to be part of a congregational church. I've seen one too many good ministers hurt by having their positions in their churches pulled from under them for petty reasons.

In the Anglican Communion, with our autonomous churches, I think we have the balance just about right, and I'd look with horror on more centralization.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks, Paul, and Mimi. The sad thing is that there is precious little theology or biblical basis to the notion of a single "world church" bound to a single administrator. Yet to hear some, this is the goal.

If simple unity were the goal, why did God command multiplication? Why, indeed, did God create so very much, all those planets, galaxies, and stars? No wonder the secular find the church risible. God likes complexity and richness!

June Butler said...

If we look to our early history, the world church is not in evidence: the church in Corinth, the church in Ephesus, the church in Thessalonica, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera, as Yul Brynner said.

Davis said...

Now you've got me thinking.

Wayne Kempton said...

Hello Tobias,

I wonder if you could comment on James Baker's 'autonomous' parish proposal. See the EDNY link to the current VTS news.

Wayne Kempton

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks, Wayne. I couldn't find a link on the EDNY site, but after some searching found the article.

I don't think much of this proposal, as it merely formalizes what we already have: i.e., no parish is (or will be) forced to call a gay or lesbian priest, or perform a same-sex blessing. Should the day come when parishes are actually required so to do, it will only be because in the course of time opposition has so far dwindled that any "vote" such as Baker proposes would produce the same result.

In short, I think the system we have now provides for a degree of laissez-faire, without institutionalizing it. And let's be frank: the problem isn't that a portion of Episcopalians don't like +Gene Robinson and don't want to have to deal with him or any other gay or lesbian clergy. The problem is that a portion of Episcopalians don't want there to be any gay or lesbian clergy, and far less, bishops. So it is not a question of laissez-faire not working, but the desire of a minority to have their way not just for themselves, but for the whole Episcopal Church -- it is a case of "loser take all."

Anonymous said...

Your argument applies equally to the autonomy of dioceses over against national 'churches', which also are "kingdoms of shreds and patches." I don't think Jesus suffered and died for national institutions, or any kind of institution for that matter.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Brian, I actually agree to a limited extent. My issue here is that those advocating for a centralized Communion wrap their ambitions in theology, while I am content to hold out for the concept of the "national or provincial church" on the basis of practicality. If theology enters into it at all, I would say that any institutionalization beyond "where two or three are gathered together in Jesus' Name" has to reflect the principles Jesus articulated: service, not government.

So my point here is not so much to make a theological point (beyond the fact that God seems to like diversity and variety rather than uniformity) but to limn the practical implications of congregationalism and curialism at the extremes, and opting for the via media that marks not only middle ground, but the ground on which Anglicanism has staked out since the Reformation, which was the model in the West until the rise of Rome in the Middle Ages, which the East (Chalcedonian and non-Chalcedonian alike) has always enjoyed, and to which the NT bears witness, as Mimi helpfully pointed out by mentioning the ancient Metropolitical Sees. I've rarely been one to argue from "tradition" but some demonstrable reason needs to be brought forward to overthrow it, and so far the "advantages" of a "world church" seem not to be in evidence, and the dangers manifest.

Wayne Kempton said...

William Reed Huntington in an address to the Boston Session of the Church Congress on May 14,1909 ended his talk with the following: "Allow me to suggest three prominent characteristics by which a truly National Church in this country would be known. Let us term them the conditons of American Catholicity. They are these: a simple creed, a varied worship, a generous polity. For these principles I have, through evil report and through good report, contended and by them I stand, strengthened by the ancient watchword HOPE ON, HOPE EVER." I would add AMEN!

C. Wingate said...

The question that then pops out is, why not let the dissenting dioceses go? Surely the federalization of the American church is, in the abstract, a stronger version of the proposed covenanting process.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Dear C.W., the question does arise, but my answer is that it is a question of scale. I've brought this up before in other posts, but it seems to me there is a qualitative, and not merely a quantitative, difference between a world-church and a "national or provincial church" and that this is in fact one of the differences between Roman Catholicism and Anglicanism. As Wayne Kempton noted, this is one of Huntington's points -- and one I think worth keeping in mind.

However, that being said, I am happy to have the "provincial" authority be coordinative rather than curial, even at that. Let GC control matters that need conformity at the provincial level, and local matters be decided locally. I think dioceses should enjoy local freedoms -- and it strikes me that they actually do, and that much of what is coming out of SC, for example, is "crozier-rattling" and needless bluster.