July 26, 2010

This Time in Rhyme

I am on retreat, but the muse spoke early this morning, in keeping with the sentiments of the previous post, and it being the feast of Joachim and Anna, I thought it appropriate to share this short quatrain:

Ere the Bread could first be broken
in the Eucharistic Feast,
Mary's "Yes" must first be spoken.
She the altar; she the priest.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

Update: the poem continues here.

And, from the comments to one who questioned the imagery of priest and altar and declared it illogical: this is of course a reference to the double analogy of Christ himself as both "priest" and "victim" -- an equally "illogical" possibility, but true nonetheless. Mary is the altar upon which (indeed from which) the ultimate Gift was sanctified, and she was the one who presented the offering, and pronounced the words that made It so.

July 25, 2010

If God Had Wanted Women Priests

If God had wanted women to be priests and bishops,
He would have made a woman
the means of His Incarnation,
the agent of the first manifestation
of His Real Presence
in Body and Blood.

Oh, wait...

a thought for certain prelates and pontiffs,
especially those who maunder on about ontology and function, from

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

about to head off on retreat for a week
Post 699!

And for 700, in honor of Joachim and Anna: this in rhyme.

July 17, 2010

The Nature of a Freedom

The right to freedom of religion is the right to believe as one chooses, and practice those beliefs. It is not the right to insist that others conform to those beliefs.

On this distinction hangs some of the tension in the DADT Repeal vs. Some Army Chaplains, and much of the pressure from religious groups against same-sex marriage, and in the recent decision of the UK Supreme Court.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
with h/ts to Episcopal Café and Thinking Anglicans

July 13, 2010

A Question of Authority

Over at the House of Bishops/Deputies Listserv a discussion started concerning the so-called “supremacy” or “authority” of Scripture — particularly in relation to which leg of Hooker’s putative three-legged stool constituted the greatest “authority.” It is commonly asserted, for example, that reason cannot trump Scripture. This notion runs contrary to one of Hooker’s basic principles: that reason is a necessary implement without which Scripture cannot fruitfully be used. He also said,

The force of arguments drawn from the authority of Scripture itself, as Scriptures commonly are alleged, shall (being sifted) be found to depend upon the strength of this so much despised and debased authority of man? Surely it doth, and that oftener than we are aware of... Even such as are readiest to cite for one thing five hundred sentences of holy Scripture; what warrant have they, that any one of them doth mean the thing for which it is alleged? Is not their surest ground most commonly, either some probable conjecture of their own, or the judgment of others taking those Scriptures as they do?... That some things which they maintain, as far as some men can probably conjecture, do seem to have been out of Scripture not absurdly gathered. Is this a warrant sufficient for any man’s conscience...? (Lawes, II.VII.8)

So which is of the greater “authority”?

From my perspective, before such a question can be answered, we have to say what we mean by “authority.” I have long used the definition, “the capacity to issue commands with a reasonable expectation they will be followed.”

With that in mind, my view is that Scripture is not a source of “authority.” (Any more that “Reason” is — Reason is how we think, a tool, a method, not a “source of authority” in and of itself. As for Tradition, I’d say it is also not an authority, but a record of previous decisions, all of them subject to re-examination and change by the real authority — the church. But I'm getting ahead of myself.)

So back to Scripture. It is — as it calls itself, or as it has been called for so very long — testimony or covenant. It is evidence presented for our acceptance, or something to which we agree to bind ourselves. The fact that our acceptance or agreement is voluntary rather than coerced indicates that this is not a question of authority, but of relationship.

As testimony, the Scripture functions in the way any good prophet or witness would — pointing not to itself but to God. It is a “ministering (ev)angel” and a servant of God sent to tell us certain truths about God. This is the whole point of “revelation.” But Scripture is not that to which it points. It is not God.

It is obvious that the Scripture does contain a number of commands issued with an expectation that they will be obeyed — and in many cases presented as the commands of God. But the interpretation and implementation of those commands — even those from God — are under the church’s authority. The church believes itself to be competent to amend or even to set aside some of these commands — even divine commands. (One of the things that brings discredit on churches — even some of the most fundamentalist — is their pledge of allegiance to inerrancy of Scripture or “sola Scriptura” combined with their manifest failure always to abide by “plain readings,” or their inconsistent or selective application of Scripture to situations and circumstances. I have no beef with Orthodox Jews who really do attempt to live by the Law as closely as they are able; or the few Christian sects who actually do attempt to live a first-century life of apostolic simplicity — but the demonstrable inconsistency of most evangelicals and fundamentalists is simply scandalous — in the classic sense.)

The fact is, most Christian churches do interpret and apply the Scripture — demonstrating their decisive authority over it. Various criteria have been provided for making such decisions over the years — beginning with the earliest understanding that Jesus himself had set aside the dietary commandments (a setting aside which Peter seems to have been unwilling to adopt until his vision of the sheet let down from heaven — a vision he soon came to understand wasn’t about food at all).

The Apostles later set aside the whole of the Law — for Gentiles — except for provisions either designed to maintain table-fellowship, or as part of the Noachide tradition (these are two prevailing theories — though I have argued in Reasonable and Holy that in setting aside the Jewish Law they understood that Gentiles still had to forgo things already forbidden under Gentile law, such as murder or adultery, but only felt the need to add to the list of forbidden actions permitted to Gentiles under their law, such as idolatry and eating blood).

The early and later church exercised its authority and further finessed these understandings. The Church of Rome has long, and rightly, and bluntly, asserted its authority over Scripture. Anglicans came up with the fudgy notion concerning authority in rites and ceremonies, but also in fact felt free to, and did, alter moral teachings — and to be fully above-board and frank, the “testimony” of Scripture itself does not make such distinctions concerning its laws. (Even amongst the Ten Commandments — the only portion of the Law considered to have been written with God’s own hand — the Law of the Sabbath is plainly “ritual.” And, in fact, the church felt free to alter the observance of the Sabbath by a day, and now scarcely holds a memory of the fact that, biblically speaking, Sabbath-breaking is a capital offense!)

All of this indicates that the real authority is the church — whether it wants to make this a matter of stated doctrine, as Rome does, or fudge it as Anglicans do. The church makes the decisions on the meaning and application of Scripture. And by “church” I mean any church that declares itself to be such. There is no “authority” to gainsay such actions, since the demise of the coercive power of a church in league with the secular arm of its nation or empire to require obedience on threat of punishment or death. Some may bemoan that fact, but that it is a fact is incontestable.

So, in short, I think the word “authority” should be retired when referring to Scripture. I prefer to stick with the classical Anglican understanding of “sufficiency” unto salvation, the end to which it was given by God.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

July 11, 2010

The real revisionists

Over in Church of England-land the General Synod is on its Sunday break, after narrowly defeating the Archbishops' "Have Your Cake and Eat it Too" Amendment that would have allowed for a kind of shadow episcopate -- in dioceses with a woman diocesan -- to cater to the insulation/isolation needs of those parishes who do not recognize the rightness, or in some cases the possibility or reality, of a female bishop. Canon Chris Sugden* of Anglican Backwater Mainstream noted in response:

The problem the Archbishops were trying to address was trying to address was the problem of monoepiscopacy, the belief that only one bishop can have jurisdiction in one geographical area.[sic]
Two comments:
  1. Is there an echo in here?
  2. Since when is monoepiscopacy a "problem" -- as it seems to me that since Nicea it was seen as the solution to the problem of partisanship. Oh... now I understand. What is it with these revisionists!!??
Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
* As far as I know no relation to the late Mollie Sugden, and obviously not easily mollified.

Very Near to You

It was a hot summer day, so hot that the air conditioning didn’t make much difference. The hospital had that “hospital” smell; you know what it’s like: that mix of antiseptic and floor polish, covering but not concealing the evident aroma of sick and ailing humanity. It was mid-afternoon, a sleepy time of day...

Read it all at Ekklesiastes.

Thought for 07.11.10

Asking, “Does God exist?” is like asking, “Does air breathe?”

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

July 2, 2010

Comprehension Requires Contention

Saint Paul observed, in an almost Hegelian way, that controversy and party-spirit, however deplorable in themselves, were almost necessary to the discernment of truth (1 Cor 11:19) There is nothing new in seeking, or at least pining after, an end to all controversy. I would suggest that the current press for an Anglican Covenant stems in part from this desire.

That this should happen within Anglicanism is natural, but to be regarded with some suspicion, as a desire for an end to contentions may merely conceal a desire for the peace of the world rather than the peace of God, which is not achieved by compromise but comprehension. I was perusing the pages of the work of the eminent Mr. Trollope the other day, and came upon a relevant passage. Here the Anglo-Catholic Mr. Arabin discourses with the Widow Bold on the subject of contention in the church, chiefly the Church of England, and dissuades from the easy solution of a governing head to put an end to controversy.

“Do not such contentions bring scandal on the church?”

“More scandal would fall on the church if there were no such contentions. We have but one way to avoid them—by that of acknowledging a common head of our church, whose word on all points of doctrine shall be authoritative. Such a termination of our difficulties is alluring enough. It has charms which are irresistible to many, and all but irresistible, I own, to me.”

“You speak now of the Church of Rome?” said Eleanor.

“No,” said he, “not necessarily of the Church of Rome; but of a church with a head. Had it pleased God to vouchsafe to us such a church our path would have been easy. But easy paths have not been thought good for us.” He paused and stood silent for awhile, thinking of the time when he had so nearly sacrificed all he had, his powers of mind, his free agency, the fresh running waters of his mind’s fountain, his very inner self, for an easy path in which no fighting would be needed; and then he continued: “What you say is partly true: our contentions do bring on us some scandal. The outer world, though it constantly reviles us for our human infirmities and throws in our teeth the fact that being clergymen we are still no more than men, demands of us that we should do our work with godlike perfection. There is nothing god-like about us: we differ from each other with the acerbity common to man; we triumph over each other with human frailty; we allow differences on subjects of divine origin to produce among us antipathies and enmities which are anything but divine. This is all true. But what would you have in place of it? There is no infallible head for a church on earth. This dream of believing man has been tried, and we see in Italy and in Spain what has come of it. Grant that there are and have been no bickerings within the pale of the Pope’s Church. Such an assumption would be utterly untrue, but let us grant it, and then let us say which church has incurred the heavier scandals.”

Barchester Towers, Chapter 21

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG