August 30, 2010

Thought for 08.30.10

I don't believe in the God that Richard Dawkins doesn't believe in, either.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

August 26, 2010

In Decline

It is interesting to see the Internet, primarily via Twitter, beginning to restore what amounts almost to declensions — or at the very least appositive particles — to finesse on-line language in the byte-sized space of tweets.

How fascinating, for instance to find the use of the hash-mark (#) adapted to serve function analogous to the Japanese ga or wa — as a topic or subject marker.

More sinister is the use of the at-sign (@) as a substitute for the old vocative “O” — imagine that! O tempore! o mores! The problem is that as many tweets and blog-comments devolve, talking at is replacing talking to, for which the ready symbol is the trusty numeral. So, 2myreaders, might I suggest even better that we talk with one another, and apply the friendly ampersand (&)? Are you &me?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

August 20, 2010

In anticipation of 9.11

I am the mash'd fireman with breast-bone broken,
Tumbling walls buried me in their debris,
Heat and smoke I inspired,
I heard the yelling shouts of my comrades,
I heard the distant click of their picks and shovels,
They have clear'd the beams away,
they tenderly lift me forth.

I lie in the night air in my red shirt,
the pervading hush is for my sake,
Painless after all I lie exhausted but not so unhappy,
White and beautiful are the faces around me,
the heads are bared of their fire-caps,
The kneeling crowd fades with the light of the torches.

— Walt Whitman, Song of Myself

August 18, 2010

Mary the Priest: A Second Stanza

following on from a previous verse...

Model of all priestly virtues:
Love, obedience shunning pride.
Let whoever would be priest choose
Her as model, her as guide.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

Taking Off the Mosque

When one strips away the bold xenophobia about the "Mosque at Ground Zero" — which is neither a mosque nor at ground zero — one finds something else. Set to one side the brazen observations that suggest all Muslims are terrorists at heart, and you will find the more genteel bigotry that calls upon minorities to be sensitive to the concerns of the intolerant. This is the language of, "Some of my best friends are... but I wouldn't want one to marry my daughter."

It is all the more appalling to see African-Americans, such as our president, simultaneously (or serially) support the right but question the wisdom of the Park51 project, or for Governor Paterson to enter into the hustle to "relocate" the project to a more distant property.

Have both of them forgotten, "There goes the neighborhood" and "They need to know their place"?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

August 16, 2010

Ground Zero Point Five

As a New Yorker (adopted, it's true, but after nearly 40 years I think I've got the NY Spirit!) it is doubly annoying to hear all of the nonsense spouted about the "Ground Zero Mosque" -- in particular the suggestion, as Senator Cornyn put it, that it is being built "in the site where 3,000 Americans lost their lives as the result of a terrorist attack."

In fact, 51 Park Place is two blocks away from the nearest corner of the WTC site. The building at that address was not destroyed in the attack -- after all, it just missed being designated a landmark! Similarly annoying are the claims that this is somehow "sacred ground." Utter nonsense, unless one considers Burlington Coat Factory sacred.

I will not go into the larger issues of freedom of religion and the apparent inability of some to appreciate that Muslims also worked at the WTC, and do work in the Financial District, and that the cultural center proposed (including the mosque) is meant to be a resource for healing and understanding. I simply want to expose the geographical ignorance of those who think this building is part of the WTC footprint, or even all that close to it. Visit NY some time, and walk our streets -- they are a rich mosaic of cultures and peoples.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

August 14, 2010

WO is me...

I don't often repeat a post on this blog, but given the recent discussions on the Ordination of Women (in particular to the Episcopate) roiling the Church of England, I think it timely to repeat this post from 2007. The Eve of the Dormition seems an appropriate moment.

ONE WAY TO TELL if a proposition is correct or not is to see if the reasons advanced in its favor contradict other propositions already accepted.

It seems clear that one of the reasons the Roman Catholic Church gave up on trying to find reasons for its opposition to the ordination of women — now simply forbidding further discussion of the matter — must be the realization at some level that the reasons advanced against it were leading into erroneous waters.

It took them a while to reach the stonewall position. By 1976, in the official commentary on Inter Insigniores (1976), the leadership had come to realize the shakiness of Fortress Reason: “It is well known that in solemn teaching infallibility affects the doctrinal affirmation, not the arguments intended to explain it. Thus the doctrinal chapters of the Council of Trent contain certain processes of reasoning that today no longer seem to hold.” An interesting confession; yet still they were reluctant to stop trying to defend the position, and soldier on with arguments in support of the faltering cause: “But this risk has never stopped the magisterium from endeavoring at all times to clarify doctrine... Faith seeks understanding, and tries to distinguish the grounds for and the coherence of what is taught.”

Unfortunately, Inter Insigniores itself contains arguments, most of which apart from the unassailable “we’ve always done it that way” have now been dropped in favor of the total stonewall. Let me give an example from this document of the kind of disorder into which rational minds can descend in the interests of maintaining the status quo.

The priest is a sign, the supernatural effectiveness of which comes from the ordination received, but a sign that must be perceptible, and which the faithful must be able to recognize with ease. The whole sacramental economy is in fact based upon natural signs, on symbols imprinted upon the human psychology: “Sacramental signs,” says Saint Thomas, “represent what they signify by natural resemblance.” The same natural resemblance is required for persons as for things: when Christ’s role in the Eucharist is to be expressed sacramentally, there would not be this “natural resemblance” which must exist between Christ and his minister if the role of Christ were not taken by a man: in such a case it would be difficult to see in the minister the image of Christ. For Christ was and remains a man.

Leaving aside the fact that women are as “perceptible” as men, this leads to a kind of sacramental receptionism (in which the believer’s perceptions are what render the sacrament valid). This reduces the sacrament from an objective reality into a subjective experience. It also puts an undue focus upon one aspect of the priestly person: his (or her!) sex. Why, after all, should sex be any more determinative of perceiving Christ — if perception were the sine qua non for the validity of the sacrament — than any other quality. And isn’t a woman more “perceptible” as Christ than a loaf of bread is as his flesh? Personally, I don’t find the figure of a paunchy octogenarian cardinal to be as “natural” or immediate a reminder of Christ as a younger and more ascetical woman.

Which is, of course, my fault. For I should be able to see Christ in every member of Christ’s body, for Christ is in them. It is not Christ’s maleness that is of significance, in the Eucharist or in anything else, but his humanity, which obviously includes his maleness, but just as obviously is not limited to or by it.

Which brings us to the serious doctrine this position contradicts. For it is taught that what is not assumed (by Christ in the Incarnation) is not redeemed. And Christ assumed the whole of human nature. Otherwise how could women be saved? Christ assumed the totality of human nature when he became incarnate, and as the Chalcedonian Definition affirms, he received that totality of human nature solely from his mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary. And she was, obviously, a woman.

I first noted this contradiction with the Chalcedonian Definition, and the implications for the ordination of women, over twenty years ago. I am very pleased to say that some of the theologians in Eastern Orthodoxy — who hold the doctrine of the Incarnation very seriously and also highly honor the Theotokos — are beginning to see the implications as well. The summer 2002 issue of Anglican Theological Review included a number of essays from an Orthodox/Old Catholic conference that raised this question.

Facing the contradiction

Let’s look at the issue more closely, by asking what relationship sex has to human nature. The nature of any class must be something possessed by every member of that class. As Hooker says, “Now if men had not naturally this desire to be happy, how were it possible that all men should have it? All men have. Therefore this desire in man is natural. It is not in our power not to do the same...” (Laws, 1.11.4) The desire to happiness is thus a part of human nature. But what about sex? “Having a sex” is natural to all human beings. But the actual quality of being male only applies to men; being female only to women. So it is part of the manly nature to be male, the womanly nature to be female. But when human nature is considered as a whole, including both men and women, the specific sex is left to one side as a quality of the individual or of the class of men or women, and only the generic quality of “having a sex” applies to human beings. Maleness or femaleness applies only to individuals, and not to human nature as a whole. So, the “natural resemblance” argument already having been defeated both on objective grounds and on the grounds of a proper understanding of the nature of the sacrament, we are left with an assertion that there is something about maleness, as a human quality, that is required for ordination.

And this is where the conflict with Chalcedon arises: for the Council affirmed that whatever it is in human nature that is of saving importance (since that is the object of the Incarnation) came through a woman — the Blessed Mother of God — and she could not confer what she did not possess. Ergo, the male character is not essential, but accidental. Even if Christ’s maleness was necessary for the fulfilment of prophecy, there is no natural reason to think this carries over to the ministers of the church. To do so is to attach a greater significance to maleness than is warranted.

Some twenty years ago, I wrote the following brief comment in the style of Richard Hooker, addressing these questions. I think it still holds up, and so I offer it here, for the first time in the blogosphere:

They say that women may not receive the benefit of the sacrament of order. But how is this; seeing that they may receive the benefit of both of the sacraments ordained by Christ, and may be, as they will admit, the ministers of baptism, which is the prime sacrament of the church’s very being; and seeing that they may alike receive the benefits of the other sacramental rites of the church, in confirmation, penance, matrimony, and unction; wherefore then are they incapable of receiving benefit of this one only sacrament of orders? Is it that they are incapable of receiving this grace, as if they were a material unfit to receive the impress of a seal? What is the grace? and what that receives it? Is there somewhat in male humanity that exists not in the female? Is it not rather that male and female are qualities of the individual person, and not of collective human nature? For humanity as a whole is neither male nor female, but each individual is either one or the other. To say otherwise were an error, since we know that all that is of human nature in woman comes from man, as Eve was taken wholly out of Adam; and further, all that is in human nature resides in woman, for Christ’s humanity came to him wholly by way of his blessed mother, and she could not bestow that which she did not possess: and finally both man and woman come from God as made in God’s image. (1Cor 11.12) So if they say that either humanity or divinity is the form or image that a woman cannot possess, they are mistaken, for she has it both by nature of birth; and further by the grace of baptism whatever of the divine image is marred or obscured in man or woman is restored to its original likeness. Finally, we hold that the grace of the sacraments comes not from the ministers who perform the rites associated thereunto, but from God; and that the lawful performance of a sacramental rite assures us of its validity and of the grace imparted thereby.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

August 4, 2010

August 1, 2010

Back to the Bronx

I've returned from the Brotherhood of St Gregory Annual Convocation. I have to report that there was an outbreak of Yankee Fever, symptoms of which are evident in the photo above. As can be seen in the picture below, efforts were made to quarantine those with presenting symptoms. Unfortunately, all of them — including your servant — were sent home at the end of the Convocation, carrying the Fever as far as Australia.

Of course, in the Bronx, one hardly notices these things...

Tobias Stanislas Haller, BSG