January 26, 2011

Mouneer Gets It Wrong

Titus1:9 has posted the full text of Bishop Mouneer Anis' address on the role of Scripture in the Anglican Communion, delivered as part of the Mere Anglicanism Conference in South Carolina. As far as Anis is concerned, I'd say "Hardly Anglicanism" would have been more accurate. To paraphrase the host of that website when referring to others, there is so much wrong in this short speech one hardly knows where to begin. But I will cite two or three problems that immediately show themselves.

Most importantly in relation to the theme of the address, the good bishop has completely misunderstood Richard Hooker, and thus misrepresents him. This arises from basing his understanding of Hooker on a citation widely quoted as a description of the "stool" or "threefold cord" of Scripture, tradition and reason. Divorced from its context and place in the massive philosophical work in which Hooker was engaged, this might barely support Anis' thesis that, "In Hooker’s teaching, Scripture comes first, reason comes second, and the voice of the church, the tradition comes third. In other words, people need to examine human reason and traditions of the church in the light of the Word of God."

But this is very far from the overall understanding Hooker seeks to unfold, particularly in terms of hierarchy. Hooker deems Scripture primary in those matters of salvation that are not attainable by natural reason and only become known through revelation; most importantly, that Christ is the Son of God. But he also affirms that natural reason can demonstrate truths apart from and prior to revelation, echoing Paul in Romans 1 and in the address in the Areopagus. Moreover, Hooker teaches that reason is no mere supplement, but a necessary tool even to understand what Scripture reveals; so it plays a prior and subsequent role in relation to the sacred text.

Ultimately, Hooker affirms that apart from the core doctrines of revelation — the "eternal Gospel" of salvation through Christ — reason can and does have the power to set aside the application of portions of Scripture that are demonstrably either no longer applicable, or formerly held as literal but now understood to be figurative. He joins the Anglican mainstream in making a distinction between the "Moral Law" (the Decalogue) and the various other commandments in the Law of Moses — a distinction not clearly evident in the sacred text itself, which presents all of the laws as binding, and most of them in perpetuity.

On a related matter, Anis seems to be unaware that Hooker spends a considerable portion of his work contradicting another notion Anis holds up as an Anglican truth: "If it is not written in the Scripture, it cannot be accepted as a norm..." That was the Puritans' position, not Hooker's. (There is a difference between a norm and a requirement, by the way!)

Finally, as readers of this blog know, I have been waging a long-standing battle against the misunderstanding of the legal principle "What touches all must be agreed to by all" as mangled and misrepresented in the Windsor Report. (See here, and here, and even tangentially here.) Bishop Mouneer repeats and lauds this perverted understanding of the principle, getting it precisely backwards.

It is not about unanimity or majority rule; quite the contrary: it is about the protection of the minority. On the basis of a real application of the principle, Lambeth 1998.1.10 is out of order because it imposed (actually, it "recommended") a position not agreed to by all, abridging the scope of an authority possessed by all provinces in governing their internal policies on ordination and marriage. Most notably, those most concerned with or "touched" by this action — gay and lesbian Christians — were not a part of the decision, except perhaps as represented by a few bishops at the conference (who may well have voted in favor as part of their protective coloration). Be that as it may, the vote was far from unanimous, and the principle, "What Touches All," was violated.

I hope that the adulating fans of Bishop Mouneer, and he himself, might get a copy of Mike Russell's helpful little book as a guide to Hooker, if they are unwilling to spend the time, as some of us have, to read his work in complete form.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG


Fr. J said...

Having been at the conference in question, and having had a chance to talk to Bishop Mouneer a little bit, I take--what will be a shock to you, I'm sure--a somewhat different opinion. My own limited reading of Hooker leads me to believe that the bishop's brief assessment is right, but I'm not enough of a Hooker scholar to tackle an argument over that. But whether or not the good bishop is right about Hooker does not make his point any less valid or any less Anglican. Hooker, as incredibly important and worthwhile as he is, is not the be all and end all of classical Anglicanism.

Bishop Mouneer quotes not just from the early Anglican Reformers and the classic formularies, but also and most notably from numerous Lambeth Conferences, going from the first one right up to the 2008 conference. In each instance, he notes the place that the Lambeth bishops give to scripture, which has changed surprisingly little in the last 150 years. As the bishops said in 1888, scripture is "the rule and ultimate standard of faith." This does not deny the role of reason or tradition, but places them squarely in submission to the authority of scripture.

Now, one can argue that we do not need to abide by the mind of successive Lambeth Conferences. And indeed, Bishop Mouneer acknowledges that they are not legislative bodies. But then one wonders what the point of their meeting is at all if we can so easily dismiss what they say, not just once but repeatedly and over the course of a century and a half. Indeed, this also would be suspect if it weren't also so thoroughly grounded in the reformers, the 39 articles, both the catholic and evangelical movements, heck even in the writing of the Fathers themselves. To argue for the supremacy of scripture as a rule and standard of faith is thoroughly Anglican.

Bishop Mouneer made an excellent call when he said that our problem as a Communion is that we claim to be biblical but do not follow the biblical and catholic teaching on conciliarity. As Bishop Nazir-Ali said in a later talk at the conference, "We have been dodging conciliarity for the last 150 years." Use whatever benchmark you like--scripture, tradition, reason--they all lead back to our need for conciliarity if we are going to truly be able to call ourselves a people of God.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Fr. J., I fear you are drinking from the same fountain as Bishop Mouneer, and reading with a similar lack of care. These points I raise are very precise, and they do help distinguish Anglicanism from other traditions. I commend to you a more thorough reading of Hooker.

As to the matters you raise: your citation of the 1888 Lambeth statement (which is part of their dealing with the Lambeth Quadrilateral): Scripture is not "supreme," but as the Articles put it "contains all things necessary for salvation" and is held to be "the rule and ultimate standard of faith."

As Hooker explains it, it is not a question of Scripture containing "all things simply" (which was the Puritan view that Mouneer appears to favor, i.e., if it isn't in Scripture we cannot do it, at least as a "norm").

Secondly, as I note, in matters of core doctrine, questions of the "Credenda" --- as summarized in the Creeds (as the LQ clarifies) Scripture is indeed the rule and standard. It is not, as some would like to see it, the rule and standard for all human activities, even some about which it is perfectly clear; but it is, as Hooker affirms, on matters of the faith due our deference. (See Article VI and read carefully to see the limits on the authority of Scripture.)

As to the necessity of conciliarity, that too is a non-Anglican notion. (See Articles XIX and XXI.) The church subsists in the local body of the faithful --- for Anglicans the national or particular church -- not in the conciliar church. The model is of organic fellowship, not hierarchical union.

When it comes to actual practice the purpose of the Lambeth Conference was fellowship and dialogue and mutual encouragement. It was not intended to be a synod or council. (That's why it's called a "conference.") We "dodge" conciliarity because we do not believe it to be a satisfactory assurance of comprehension, particularly as it seeks to make decisions for the whole. The principle of "local autonomy in mutual fellowship" provides that in matters of controversy at least some may have it right, even if they are in a minority. The purpose of the meetings is fellowship, not decision making, and certainly not the exercise of authority by one part of the body over another.

Have you actually taken the time to read the resolutions of the Lambeth Conference, not just a select few. If you do, you will see there is considerable variation over time on any number of issues, including some complete reversals (on birth control and polygamy just to name two).

Of course, one can argue that the Puritans were the "true Anglicans" -- but history does not support that claim. The real problem is not that we claim to be biblical but aren't, but that some, such as Mouneer, don't understand what it means to be biblical in an Anglican sense.

Muthah+ said...

Thanks, Tobias. This is exactly what I needed to teach my class on the Anglican Covenant tonight.

On another point: Is it Hooker's thought that Scripture= Word? as in Christ as is understood by the Lutherans?

The Religious Pícaro said...

"He joins the Anglican mainstream in making a distinction between the "Moral Law" (the Decalogue) and the various other commandments in the Law of Moses"

Two questions...

A. Is the "Moral Law" really a synonym for the Ten Commandments? Lots of people seem to speak/write as if other things, like the "clobber verses," are part of the moral law.

B. Where did we get this concept? Is it something we inherited from Rome, or something Anglicans made up by ourselves? It really does seem to be a classic case of reading something *into* a text. It's certainly doesn't seem like anything you could back up using Scripture.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

You're welcome, Muthah+! I am not aware that Hooker made that equation of Christ as Word and Scripture as Word. "Word of God" refers in his works to the Scripture. Article II seems not to make that connection either. "Jesus = The Bible" seems to me to be a much more Lutheran, sola scriptura kind of understanding.

Bill, I know lots of conservatives like to consider the clobber verses as part of the "moral law" so they can include it under Article VII. But Hooker understood the "Commandments that are called Moral" (not the use of the word "called") as the Ten Commandments.

He made the distinction as follows: The positive laws which Moses gave, they were given for the greatest part with restraint to the land of Jewry... Which laws he plainly distinguished afterward from the laws of the Two Tables which were moral... Of the Ten Commandments, it followeth immediately, "These words the Lord spake unto all your multitude in the mount..." (Deut 5.22) But concerning other laws, the people give their consent to receive them at the hands of Moses (Deut 5.27)... From this latter kind the former are distinguished in many things. They were not both at one time delivered, neither both of one sort, nor to one end. The former uttered by the voice of God..., written with the finger of God,... termed by the name of Covenant,... given to be kept without either mention of time how long, or place where. On the other side, the latter given after, and neither given by God himself, nor given unto the whole multitude immediately from God, but unto Moses...; the latter termed Ceremonies, Judgments, Ordinances, but no where Covenants; finally, the observation of the latter restrained unto the land where God would establish them to inhabit. (Book III.XI.6)

To answer your second question, this idea was not new with Hooker. It goes back at least as far as Irenaeus (Adv. Haer. III.15)

I think it fair to say that the unique status of the Decalogue has long been recognized, and the points Hooker makes seem sound. And Jesus appears to have recognized this when the rich young man asked what he needed to do to be saved...

Christopher (P.) said...

I read comments such as Fr. J's, and American distinctiveness--and conservative dis-ease with it--continues to come through. It's interesting to talk about the 39 articles, and they were certainly formative of our Anglican tradition and identity, but the articles are of no legal effect in our church. So calls to return to the Anglican formularies, from which we departed in the 1790s, and to some purported conciliar tradition, which we have never had, just seem perverse. I am continually amazed at the ongoing efforts to control a process that never had such control before. It is almost as if the strong modes of social and political control that have been such a malign part of 20th-century polity are now entering into the church. Whhich I had always considered a place of refuge from such a polity.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Christopher P., I don't think those who readily cite the Articles even understand them. Mouneer clearly doesn't grasp their minimalism when it comes to the Authority of Scripture and of the Church.

As to conciliarity, see my subsequent post. While the South Carolinians, Refusant Primates, and Anglican Communion Institute continue to live in a world of their own invention, statements such as this provide a strong corrective.

Fr. J said...

Given the limits of Blogger, please indulge me with a two part reply. Here is part one...

If I'm reading you right, I don't think that we fundamentally disagree about the place of scripture but rather on what constitutes a matter of "faith." The snow is keeping me away from my office and books, so forgive me if I get this slightly wrong, but I seem to recall a famous passage of Hooker's in which he argued well against the Puritans that while the Bible can teach us all things necessary for salvation, one has to learn to read by means outside of the Bible in order to make the Bible useful in the first place.

Likewise, to matters indifferent, that old hobbyhorse adiaphora, the Church is given authority to decree and derive ceremonies and rites as she sees fit (Article XX). The classic example there would be the giving of the ring in marriage, a traditional part of the Anglican marriage rite if there ever was one, but vigorously opposed by the Puritans on the grounds that such a thing was not to be found in scripture.

In looking again at the bishop's statements on Article VI, I can see how you would draw the conclusion that he is eliminating other possibilities, but I don't think that's actually what he's doing, particularly given the way he goes on to use Article XX. His point, it seems to me, is that a norm cannot be "imposed" upon the faithful that is not from scripture, as in one cannot be forced to believe something that cannot be proven by scripture. There are plenty of things that have become norms in the Communion that nevertheless cannot and should not be imposed. For instance, most of our clergy wear clerical collars and vestments. This is, I believe, a good and right and traditional thing to do, but not something that anyone should be forced to accept.

That being said, Bishop Mouneer goes on to quote Article XX and to explain that “the Church has the authority to interpret, but the Church does not have the authority to change the Word or to interpret in a way that is different from the Word of God.” As the article says, “it is not lawful for the Church to ordain any thing that is contrary to God's Word written, neither may it so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another.” In other words, while the Church is fully capable of allowing for and even celebrating things that are not in scripture, she cannot do so if those same things are explicitly contrary to scripture, nor may she pit scripture against scripture, making it seem as if the whole is not inspired and useful for teaching, correction, and reproof (2 Timothy 3:16)...

Fr. J said...

(Continued from above)

...So yes, scripture is supreme in matters of faith. And yes, I have read through much of the previous Lambeth Conferences. And yes, they do change their minds on many things, which makes their consistency and clarity on the matter of scripture and its place in the Church all the more astonishing and informative.

On the matter of the subsistence of the Church in the local body, I would again agree with you, though I think you miss the larger point. Yes, of course, the Church is not simply a hierarchy, detached from people and place. As Saint Ignatious said, “Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.” Or, to quote from Article XIX, the Church is where “the pure Word of God is preached, and the Sacraments be duly ministered according to Christ's ordinance, in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same.” None of that negates conciliarity. In point of fact, it makes the case for conciliarity. One can hardly preach the “pure Word of God” minus the Book of Acts, which makes plainly clear that conciliarity was the model of the early Church.

Yes, Article XXI states that councils can err, even ecumenical councils, even in matters of faith. That doesn’t mean that classical Anglicanism rejected conciliarity. As Lancelot Andrewes famously wrote in description of the Anglican position, “One canon reduced to writing by God himself, two testaments, three creeds, four general councils, five centuries, and the series of Fathers in that period... determine the boundary of our faith.” While there’s been some variation on this, the acceptance of the first four ecumenical councils by Anglicans as ecumenical and authoritative has never been controversial. Likewise, the very teaching of the Nicene Creed as a standard summary of the faith is an implicit endorsement of Nicaea and Constantinople. The prerequisite has been that scripture holds a higher authority and that anything that comes from a council that can be proven to be repugnant to scripture should be disavowed.

Anglicanism has always accepted conciliarity at the ecumenical level, taking the form of the great councils, and at the local level, taking the form of synods and conventions. What Anglicanism has never had is true conciliarity at the level of the Communion itself. This is for reasons largely historical rather than theological. Anglicanism had no need to worry about such questions until the nineteenth century. The question of inter-Anglican conciliarity is relatively moot when there is only one province. The expansion of the Communion brought with it the question of how we would relate to one another. The Lambeth Conference is but one example of an attempt to exhibit conciliarity without actually having to deal with the consequences of it. If we call it a conference and say it is non-binding, we have no fear for what you may do to me or I may do to you. And, in so much as the Communion did not face the kind of crisis then that we face now, there was no need to make for a body that could carry out binding decisions (the Colenso affair not withstanding, and in fact illustrating the unity of the Communion at that time by the rarity of the aberration). But we cheated ourselves by thinking we could go on forever without the ability to make genuine decisions on controversies of faith, and now we’ve reached a breaking point because of that inaction.

Much more could be said about that, but for now suffice it to say that a truly biblical, truly evangelical, truly catholic Communion needs to recover conciliarity to be authentically Christian, let alone Anglican. Fellowship is grand, but fellowship alone does not a communion make.

Marshall Scott said...

I think there is a further sense in which Bishop Anis takes Lambeth statements over the years out of context. That is that, by and large, the bishops composing and voting on those statements were thoroughly familiar with the historical/critical study of Scripture. Much of what Bishop Anis wants to consider a-Scriptural capitulation to the culture is in fact the consequence of studying not only the content of the Scriptures, but also about the Scriptures in historical and literary context.

Now, I don't believe Bishop Anis is unfamiliar with Biblical Criticism. I do think, though, that like many other Evangelicals he rejects it when he finds it inconvenient. There are those who accuse us progressive types of doing the same thing with, among others, the "clobber verses." That's not my experience or my practice. My experience is instead that we know they're there and we don't ignore them. Rather, we wrestle with them faithfully; and even when we discern that they are more limited in application than the sola scriptura folks want to suggest, we do so with a certain amount of fear and trembling and humility. I can be wrong, and so must rely on God's mercy.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Fr. J., in all of this I am trying to focus on where disagreement lies. Yes, the question of what constitutes "faith" is important. As is the question of adiaphora. Adiaphora, of course, can only really be named in retrospect. At the time the issues of controversy always seem important to those to whom they are important!

My problem with Mouneer's reading of Article XX is that he is surmising "imposition" where none exists. A province of the communion has made decisions that need have no impact outside of that province. No province is "required" to accept these innovations in rites and ceremonies, and no one is holding them out as matters of salvation.

Similarly, he misses the import of "to ordain any thing that is contrary" -- "to ordain" in this context (as in most others) means "to require." In the present context, of course, this begs the question that same-sex marriage, for example, is "contrary" to Scripture when I and others would argue that it is simply not addressed, and that on moral grounds it can be commended.

The "repugnant" part is a bit trickier; to take it to mean that the contradictory passages of Scripture simply don't exist goes too far. The problem is reconciling those contradictions in a way that honors both texts rather than dismissing one or the other. (Cranmer, of course, failed to live up to this standard when his jettisoned the Levirate law in favor of the Levitical when it came to Henry's divorce (also ignoring Jesus, of course!)

As to your Part II; I am not negating conciliarity but noting it requires reception -- otherwise it is curial and not conciliar. As to Andrewe's quote, doesn't it in fact prove my point, since we don't accept the ritual provisions even of the first 4 Councils (making a distinction the Councils would have found wanting), and have decided on our own not to bother with the other 3? In other words, we "receive" what we wish to receive, and are bound by what we choose.

So I fundamentally disagree with your assertion that to be a true church requires conciliarity as you describe it. It is, in fact, those who want a curial structure who are walking apart and destroying the communion as it was, and the new communion will emerge under God's grace.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thank you, Marshall. I don't know what Bp Mouneer's qualifications as a scholar are. I believe he was a medical doctor in his former career. And of course, I was an actor! Unlike Dr. Seitz, I'm not one who puts much stock in credentials -- but I will go by what people say and write, and it is clear to me that as you suggest Bp Mouneer is rejecting what he finds inconvenient, and picking the raisins out of the scriptural scone.

I'm also troubled by the rhetoric from that side, echoed in Fr. J's comments, that dialogue is somehow pointless unless binding resolutions can emerge; that Lambeth and the Primates' Meeting (and the ACC) are useless unless "action" is taken or "decisions" reached and universally imposed even on those who disagree. The irony is, of course, they don't want to accept the decisions of their own Synods (at least in the US and England) when they decide against them. These are the synods to which they are actually vowed. To clamor for a higher level of authority only to undo the authority at a level under which one actually serves seems to me to be the source of our disorder, not the answer to our problems.

MarkBrunson said...

Many, many words - especially from Mouneer!

Bishops, in a sense, have to justify episcopacy - like lawyering, you've got to make the job a necessity by creating the laws.

All of it is an attempt to rigidly codify and control what is a living and dynamic relationship with the Only Real Authority, and becomes dangerous because it allows humans to assume the mantle of God - a great deal of ecclesial (institutional) history can be summed up as "If you don't want me to kill/expel/humiliate this heretic, O Lord, then say something! Nothing? No? Okay, then!"

I accept the need in human affairs for structure, but not inflexibility - adiaphora even tries to inflexibly define the flexible - and I take it as given that it is much better to err on the side of liberality in the spirit of experiment.

I fear all this canonical wrangling in the guise of "Communion" has become an excuse to exalt a miniscule, bemitred percentage of our Christian family, and, as such, has become a poison to living faith.


Well said. Bravo. EGGSactly. Amen.

(or ... as I said on my not-nearly-so-clever and well argued blog:

That would be the principle of "decided by all" that excludes priests, deacons and laity from the decision making process. A "decided by all" that under-represents women and excludes LGBT voices. In other words, a "decided by all" that has nothing to do with "all" at all!)

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