December 28, 2011

The Outer Limits (of Communion)

We will control the horizontal. We will control the vertical... We can change the focus to a soft blur, or sharpen it to crystal clarity. — Not The Joint Standing Committee of the Primates Meeting and the Anglican Consultative Council
“Communion is the fundamental limit of autonomy.” So proclaimed the Windsor Report (¶82). This observation could be merely the recognition of the harsh reality that people often break up when one does something of which the other disapproves, even when the action is objectively within the competence, authority, or right of that other person. But “limits” here has a stronger, and more intentional meaning. It is not a mere marker of a transition point, but an attempt to bar the transition — not a mere border marker but a sentry point, armed and at the ready to prevent any incursion.

At its most generous reading, this represents an aspirational and idealistic approach to human and ecclesiastical affairs. The sentries do not want to shoot anyone; they do want everyone voluntarily to submit to the discipline. They want no one to do anything to offend anyone else. This must mean, when push comes to shove in the situational and real world, that some are expected to refrain from doing something — something they feel strongly about, something they think is right and that they have the right to do, something which the failure to do would be wrong — on the basis of the possible (or real) offense such action may (or will) give to someone else.

This becomes particularly difficult in our touchy times and even touchier Communion, in which a pervasive neuralgia and hypersensitivity seems to have afflicted portions of our former fellowship — to the extent that fellowship is now actually broken. A recent instance of this is the “Dear John” letter from Archbishop Daniel Deng Bul of the Episcopal Church of the Sudan to the Presiding Bishop of TEC. It is a masterpiece of high dudgeon, closing with, “We will not give TEC advice anymore, because TEC ignored and has refused our advices.”  Clearly, either you do as they think right, or that’s the end of it. If you do not take Sudan’s expert advice on the interpretation of Scripture, they will have nothing more to do with you.

All of this leads me to see things rather differently from Windsor, and from the optimistic view of the Communionists and Covenanters, and to place the shoe delicately on the foot of the one taking offense. It is not the exercise of autonomy that ruptures communion, but the abreaction of those who find that exercise intolerable. Thus: tolerance is the limit of communion. As I wrote back in December 2010
It is not possible to “agree never to disagree”; [but it is possible to adopt] a commitment “never to allow any disagreements to lead to a severance of communion or any other consequences to the covenanted relationship.” The short message is in this maxim: “It is never possible not to give offense; but it is always possible not to take offense.” ...It is always possible to forgive, in the manner of Christ, even those who do not think or know they need forgiveness. It is possible not to insist that all do as I do, or think as I think. This is the way of Christ...
It is, in the long run, more Christlike and more practically possible to “agree to disagree” while remaining committed to one another, “for better, for worse,” than to walk on ecclesiastical eggshells for fear of doing anything others might not like.

Case in point

Over at Thinking Anglicans, an interesting comment stream developed in response to the post about Jonathan Clatworthy’s worthy essay on the proposed Anglican Covenant. One commenter, in response to the appeals (such as my own) for an essentially laissez-faire model for the Communion, threw down the gauntlet (or the other shoe for the other foot) of lay presidency at the Eucharist as proposed in Sydney, Australia.

A few responded that such a thing would be a move beyond the pale, but a number of others, including myself, reflected that this is precisely what I would see as something to tolerate even while disagreeing with it — that is, I could tolerate, and believe the Communion could tolerate, Sydney approving such a novel experiment. I hasten to repeat that I would not personally support such an innovation and would oppose its introduction in my own province. Frankly, while I don’t see the idea catching on, I have my reasons for not feeling this need be a communion-breaking issue.

My general reason is that lay presidency is, as far as I can see, similar to the question of same-sex marriage or the ordination of bishops engaged in such marriages, to the extent that these questions cannot be answered by a sole appeal to Scripture. In Reasonable and Holy I have laid out at some length how I feel Scripture, Tradition, and Reason can support the broadening of marriage to include same-sex couples, and I won’t belabor that here.

But let me sketch out a few of the reasons I see lay presidency as a tolerable experiment, even though I do not support it, except perhaps in the emergency “desert island” situations in which I think the commandment of the Lord to “do this in remembrance of me” outweighs the church’s tradition requiring a priest or bishop to preside at the remembrance.

First, that “desert island” scenario is a good example of “the exception proves the rule.” There is a rule, no doubt about it, from very early on in the church’s history, that the eucharistic assembly is to be presided over by a bishop. This presidency came eventually to be shared with and committed to presbyters. But that evolution itself reveals that the rule is not hard and fast, and bears exceptions as it evolves. No doubt there were those in that transitional period who felt short-changed or took offense that the bishop was not the chief celebrant in their assembly, as the officiant’s task in a growing and spreading church was committed to mere “country-bishops” (chorepiscopoi) — who are very likely the genetic ancestors of our later “parish priest.”

This reveals a church willing to experiment — as experiment it must if it is to survive in a changing world, and evolves new ministries such as the diaconate and presbyterate as part of that experimentation. Look at Paul’s advice to Titus concerning establishing presbyters in Crete, for example. This is evolution and experiment at work.

As the Scripture gives no clear evidence as to who the celebrant must be, other than by commission of the apostles or someone commissioned by them, the question can turn to the various means by which this commissioning has been performed since their times. Although laying on of hands holds pride of place, insufflation, anointing, and the handing over of the instruments essential to the performance of the rite all have formed part of the elements of the rite by which a person was authorized to take on the office of Eucharistic presidency. The crucial factor is authorization, not the form or sign by which that authorization takes place, since the form or sign is of human origin. Late patristic scholar the Rev Canon Richard Norris was once asked, “What do you call a lay person authorized by a bishop to preside at the Eucharist?” His pert response, “A priest.” Celebrating the Eucharist is a“faculty” that when conferred, is conferred.

Moreover, old models of “confection” of the Eucharist by the celebrant have in more recent years given way to a much broader community-based understanding of the sacrament even in many “catholic” contexts. Sydney is not, as I understand it, talking of a kind of informal “anyone like to officiate?” model for the Eucharistic assembly, but the designation of certain individuals to take up this function. This may press the buttons of those — including myself — who favor the rich and sacramental understanding of ordination. But the buttons marked “Break Communion” or “Schism” need not be among those pressed.

Again, let me state that this is not meant to be an argument in favor of lay presidency. It is, however, an argument for toleration of such an experiment, for mission needs in face of pressing situations. Meanwhile, such a local experiment will either catch on or not, and no other province need participate or copy, and the economy of God will cover any other deficits. Or so I trust.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG


Robert Brenchley said...

If the C of E ever gets as far as union with the Methodists - I'm not sure it will, but never mind - then they'll have to swallow lay presidency. We've always had it, and as the number of ministers goes down, so it becomes more common.

June Butler said...

Tobias, I agree that if Sydney moves forward with lay presidency, that should not be a communion breaker. The provinces which do not wish to implement the practice, don't have to.

...the economy of God will cover any other deficits. Or so I trust.

Yes, I like that.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks, Robert. It occurred to me early this morning that from the RC perspective Anglicans have had lay presidency for centuries!

Thanks, Mimi. The other issue, which I think I failed to mention, is that of course we are not under any compulsion to attend a lay-presided liturgy -- but if that were all that were available, I'd avail myself of it out of respect for the "body" of the church which, I believe, is at the heart of what the Eucharist is about...

June Butler said...

Tobias, I noted that some in the comments at Thinking Anglicans said they would search around for a service in which a 'proper' priest presided, but I'd attend any Anglican or Episcopal Church.

After all, I've attended communion services in other denominations, and, no matter what the beliefs of the particular church, I believe I receive the body and blood of Christ. Heresy, or the economy of God?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

GM, I follow your practice. The old rule, "Eat what is set before you" applies, and who am I to turn down God's invitation, regardless of who that invitation comes through?

G said...

Union with the Church of England would, of course, obviate the original rationale for celebration of the sacraments by Methodist ministers, ordained or lay. Wesley himself only reluctantly agreed to "set apart" a superintendent with ordaining authority so as not to leave American congregations after the Revolution stranded. Even as recently as the 1940s, some members of the United Church of Canada continued the Methodist tradition of worship in the chapel and receiving the sacraments in the Anglican (viz. "Church of England in Canada") parish church.

Jesse said...

A very useful post, Tobias. Thank you. It is all the more useful to me because I have tended to use lay presidency as a litmus test (along with Communion of Non-Christians or CWOB) for putting myself in the shoes of those who oppose those "expansionist" developments that I have for the most part welcomed, or at least decided not to fret about.

I ask myself, "If my province decided to authorize lay presidency (or C of N-C), what would I do? I couldn't support it, and a synod's passing it would be proof enough for me that my church no longer wished to be the church as I understand it." The emotions that such a thought experiment stirs in me afford at least a little insight into the motivations informing, for example, Forward in Faith in the UK and ACNA in the US and Canada.

That's a separate question, of course, from the matter of communion (or breaking communion) between provinces that you are addressing here. But it's helpful all the same to read your measured thoughts on what would be for me "a hill to die on". I must confess, the relevance of the devolution of eucharistic presidency to presbyters had not previously occurred to me in this context (though of course it comes into any Anglican's reflections on the origins and importance of the episcopate). How easily we (or at least I) forget that Christians long ago had to live through and argue about such changes, just as we are living through and arguing about change in our own times!

The central matter, it seems to me, is whether or not we feel we can trust the Church (in Canada read "General Synod") to respond to new circumstances and problems in a way that is faithful to what the Church has received. Sometimes it feels as if those making the decisions are either ignorant of the tradition that has been received, or, if they know the tradition, do not acknowledge any debt of obedience or responsibility to it. And in those cases, it is hard to trust that an innovation or development is really a faithful response to new knowledge or circumstances, rather than mere short-sighted expediency or, worse, a superficial sense of "knowing better". The enormities of Sydney strike me as the latter: a presumption to teach Tradition, rather than to be taught by it, based on a conviction that a "correct" and definitive interpretation of the Bible has at last been reached.

My impression is that the (not always easy) communion between the Eastern Orthodox Churches has survived in large measure because of an overriding sense of obligation to the Tradition that has limited (but not entirely precluded) innovation, even in the face of persecution. I wonder if the hot-button questions within Anglicanism today would not be so divisive if they were not perceived to be "bundled" with innovations striking even more deeply at the Tradition.

For example, the 2002 "Mind of Anglicans" survey commissioned by the anti-women's-ordination group Cost of Conscience in the UK seemed to show that those who most strongly supported women in the episcopate, along with liberalization on sexuality, abortion, euthanasia, and divorce, were also those least likely to assent to the several articles of the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed. The Diocese of Sydney is not, I suspect, vulnerable to that particular accusation! But I can really understand the decision of people to walk away or to break communion if they feel that a province's innovations in Church teaching or practice are being proposed and pushed through by people who disbelieve, or have simply never learned, the central articles of the Christian faith.

By contrast, your writings, Tobias, exude the sweet odor of Nicene and Chalcedonian orthodoxy! And that makes it all the more difficult to ignore your arguments for change...

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thank you, Jesse, for a very measured and thoughtful reflection. I share both your reservations about LP and Cb4B, and do fear the latter may by some hook or crook catch on. And I share your sense that the problem is a rather superficial reading of Scripture or the Tradition. The "enthusiasm" of Sydney for the priesthood of all believers edging over into the ministerial priesthood has as little actual Scriptural basis as does ministerial presidency. BUt enthusiasm seems to be the watchword, and people and synods can get carried away.

Since I do have a voice and vote at General Convention -- at least for another term -- I'll do my best to oppose developments that I see as misguided. I hope not to end up feeling too Athanasian!

Marshall Scott said...

It is also important for the reflection that Sydney is not a national/regional church in the Anglican Communion. It is a provincial subdivision within the Anglican Church of Australia. So, the first consideration would be how that Church in its own Synod responded. So, how then might we respond if Australia were to decide officially to allow experimentation and local option on this choice?

Having grown up, as I say, "breathing Southern Baptist air" (pronounced "arr"), I'm quite prepared to trust the Spirit to provide the Real Presence without regard to the celebrant (a position that in other controversies we have valued very much). I'm also conscious that we already have standards for Eucharistic sharing with United Methodists. So, we can't as a Church react without reflection to Lay Presidency. In reflecting on communion (and Communion), it is these Church to Church reactions and reflections that make a difference. When a diocese or dioceses within a Church acts, not only tolerance but simply patience is the appropriate reaction unless and until that Church takes a position.

Whit said...

I would not advocate kicking the diocese of Sydney out of the Anglican Communion if they authorized lay presidency. But I visited Sydney I would be very careful to attend one of the anglo-catholic churches where I could be certain that I would take communion from a priest. Lay presidency is, after all, one of the reasons I am no longer a Methodist.

JCF said...

"those least likely to assent to the several articles of the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed"

There's a can o' worms! [All of it, but especially "assent to the several articles of": is that what the Creed is really FOR? (Not in *this* Creedal Christian's POV! ;-) )]


I agree w/ your central thesis, Tobias (re lp: not my cup of tea in the slightest, but not a communion-breaker. The Economy of God will provide!)

JCF said...

P.S.: I cite the "Economy of God" from personal experience w/ (what can certainly be termed) lay presidency, at so many Holy Communions I participated in at Union Theological Seminary. Wasn't my "Sunday Meal", but I believe(d) that God's Abundant Economy can more than provide for those Thursday noon HCs at UTS. NO "president" at the Table of the Lord---all the way up to archbishop, patriarch, or Pope!---is worthy on their own, anyway.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks Marshall, Whit, JCF. I particularly appreciate the call for patience. Although I've critiqued the Gamaliel Position in the past, as perhaps a bit too passive, it is good to maintain that sense of calm and patience that seems to be in such short supply these days. I would like to think that patience was a renewable resource, replenished by repeated exposure to the Son.

JCF, IIRC the N-C Creed was created as a kind of litums test, a point by point effort to oppose specific heresies. The N version even came with a series of anathemas. I would agree that it has evolved into something else, but I still think assent to the articles -- even given rather different metaphysical understandings than were intended by the authors due to shifts in philosophy (i.e., "substance" being perhaps a less useful concept now than it was in those days) -- is a good policy. Personally I have no difficulty with any article of the N-C creed with a slight quibble about the wording of "filioque" -- but I'm not alone in that, and will stand with the Orthodox on the subject...

June Butler said...

I hope I don't come across as an anything-goes type, because I am quite orthodox in the essentials of the faith, and I say the creeds with fingers uncrossed.

Such a change as lay presidency should come slowly, if at all, probably as a result of exigency. When I left the RCC, one reason I chose the Episcopal Church was because of the frequent eucharistic services, because the Eucharist is important in my faith life.

WV: luketic

Christopher said...

It is the guardianship of the Incarnation precisely in the profession of the N-C Creed that led me to ask questions of a tradition that would declare God became human to save all of humanity while at the same time suggesting that women are not fully human, for that is the implication of much of the fuss around not ordaining women--they cannot image the Person of Jesus Christ. Now, I don't hold to the Roman understanding that the priest acts in persona Christi for several theological reasons (and I might add neither do the Orthodox), but to say that male members present Christ and female members cannot is a serious soteriological matter. In fact, many of the arguments are anti-Chalcedonian.

When it comes to reflecting on the magnitude of the Word become flesh, some humility about what and who has been created in the Word in the first place, I would think, might make us curious about Creation and the variety in unity, a variety that need not preclude same-sex sexual love if we don't fundamentalize the entire point of the Genesis story, but rather read it through the lens of the Christian creation story, John 1.

Simply because something is tradition does not make it catholic. Catholic does unfold, is curious, learns, admit mistakes. Anglican catholicism, thankfully, always contains within itself a self-critical tendency--because the Church errs even in matters of faith.

Profession of the N-C Creed cuts at the heart of several faith errors, including those that would divide creation and salvation.

Whit said...

I just want to add two more comments- currently, if I was ever in Sydney I would make an effort to attend a service which the local Anglican church advertised as BCP Communion, but I would not look for a liberal-catholic parish unless I was actually living in Sydney rather than staying there for a few days. So lay presidency would affect where I personally worship if I am ever in Australia. I would see the Diocese of Sydney as being less than legitimately Anglican in practice as well as ethos. And I would definitely ask my bishop and rector to declare themselves to be in impaired communion with +Jensen. I also hope that the General Convetion of ECUSA would pass a resolution urging the Anglican Province of Australia to engage in appropriate disciplinary measures to rein in the renegade diocese.

If TEC ever allowed lay presidency or abandoned the Creeds as the test of faith I would regretfully have to join ACNA or a continuing church. Sexuality is a second-order issue- I'm pro-gay but want to be in fellowship with those that are not. The creed and the sacraments are first-order issues. I can't be in fellowship with those who invalidate the Eucharist or reject the faith of the Church.

Communion without Baptism is annoying, but it is something to work against within TEC.

Lionel Deimel said...

I was tempted to respond to the comment on Thinking Anglicans about lay presidency when I first read it, but, in the end, I did not do so. It was clearly meant to be provocative, to show that even liberals have their limits. I would have said that I would be opposed to lay presidency but would not consider it communion-breaking.

Tobias’s argument that lay presidency is intrinsically tolerable is interesting, but perhaps not the most interesting observation to make.

Whit’s comment gets to the heart of the matter. We care about positions taken by our own church more strongly than we care about positions taken by other churches, whose “errors” we can, in most cases, accept with Christian charity.

This, of course, is what makes the Anglican Covenant so potentially destructive. By bringing Anglican churches closer together, it comes very close to making us a single church. Suddenly, every “error” is in our own church and must be extinguished!

Widespread adoption of the Covenant will bring us all together so that we can more easily destroy one another, rather like thrusting together masses of plutonium that, apart, can co-exist but that, when brought together, produce either a nuclear explosion or a fatal dose of radiation that kills everyone in the vicinity.

Jesse said...

Without wishing to stir the pot about "assent" to the creeds, I can't resist throwing in some choice words from Rowan Williams about two of the main questions in that "Mind of Anglicans" survey: belief in the Virgin Birth, and belief in the Bodily Resurrection.

Responding in 1998 to John Shelby Spong's "Twelve Theses", Williams had this to say on these two articles of faith:

For the record: I have never quite managed to see how we can make sense of the sacramental life of the Church without a theology of the risen body; and I have never managed to see how to put together such a theology without belief in the empty tomb. If a corpse clearly marked ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ turned up, I should save myself a lot of trouble and become a Quaker.

The virginal conception looks less straightforward, if you are neither a fundamentalist nor someone committed to the principled denial of miracles. Is it possible to believe in the incarnation without this? Yes, I think so (I did for a few years). But I also have an uncomfortable feeling that the more you reflect on the incarnation, the less of a problem you may have. There is a rather haunting passage in John Neville Figgis about –- as it were –- waking up one day and finding you believe it after all. My sentiments exactly.

I had the chance a few years ago to hear Archbishop Rowan deliver an outstanding public lecture about the Resurrection. During the open question-and-answer session that followed, someone asked him what he had to say about the Mind of Anglicans survey's finding that between one-third and one-half of Church of England clergy did not believe in Jesus' bodily Resurrection. His simple reply? "They're wrong!" When the laughter and applause died down, he went on to query whether the respondents to the survey thought they were being asked about the resuscitation of a corpse, which of course would not adequately describe the Resurrection.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks for the additional thoughts. Mimi, I would never think of you as "anything goes."

Christopher, my sentiments exactly. I think where the anti-OOW anti-SSM position runs into trouble is precisely in this area of a defective grasp of the Incarnation and all its implications for anthropology.

Whit, I would very likely do as you suggest. You do remind me of one point I failed to mention in the original post: that is that the Lambeth Quadrilateral does make a bit of a fuss about the elements of communion and the words of institution, but is silent on the celebrant. That may be a case of "it goes without saying" but... I'm just saying... A strict construnctionist could have a field day with this.

Lionel, agreed on all counts, particularly on the dangers of enforced conformity -- I still think Jim Naughton's "Government by hurt feelings" is the perfect phrase.

Jesse, this is Williams at his clearest and brightest. (Would we saw that more often!) Unfortunately there is a good bit of undigested matter in the tradition concerning bodily (meaning "fleshly") resurrection -- much of it untenable both in terms of Paul's rather clear elucidation of the nature of the "Spiritual Body" of the resurrection, and contemporary knowledge of physics! I"m heartened that Paul is more in keeping with Heisenberg et alia than the Patristic thinkers who in their zeal to avoid gnosticiam erred into a kind of crude physicalism that just won't fly. Literally.

Erika Baker said...

I stray from the topic but I wanted to say that I don't think the comment on Thinking Anglicans was meant to be provocative.

It recognises that the Covenant arose from the lgbt debate and that in most people's minds, supporters and also opposers it is closely linked to the gay issue.

The person who mentioned lay presidency did so because Jonathan Clatworthy proposed a "live and let live approach" and the commenter genuinely want to tease out if supporters still support the Covenant and opposers still oppose it, when they realise that it can be - and in future will be -applied to other hot button issues, some of which they might approve. Or if they still support a live and let live approach when it might affect something they hold dear.

In that context Lay Presidency was a very good example as it turned out, because immediately the old party lines changed, you could no longer immediatley tell who was in which camp, and the easy division pro lgbt/anti Covenant and anti lgbt and pro Covenant disappeared.

If the question got people to think about the Covenant and Jonathan Clatworthy's alternative proposal, it has done its job.
I fear, though, that not many saw it as a Covenant question at all and turned it into a Lay Presidency question.
Which, in that context, was a shame.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thank you, Erika. It was also my aim here to recontextualize the issue of LP in terms of the Covenant and Communion -- hence my title; but here too the discussion veered a bit into the pros and cons and likes and dislikes of LP itself.

One of the problems of life in the church is that we really have no idea what the next generation will come up with as a raging question. I very much doubt that the Apostles though circumcision was going to be such a hot topic; and I can't imagine they every thought the common cup, vernacular liturgy, the ordination of women, or any other number of latter day hot issues would ever plague the church's peace!

Anonymous said...

Fr. Tobias:

If you hadn't come up with the thought about centuries-long Anglican lay presidency from the RCC POV, I would have surely supplied the missing snarky comment in good time.

Still, LP is just another example of dumbed-down theology rising to the Anglican top. Is there any theological innovation or degredation that is beyond the Anglican pale? It isn't the N-C Creed, it isn't the 39 Articles, it isn't Jesus Christ as a univocal Savior, it isn't common sacramental theology, it isn't a common ecclesiology, it isn't any moral norm like gay marriage or abortion. Is there any belief that is inherently out-of-bounds in TEC or the ACC, where if an Episcopalian expressed such a belief in public the other Episcopalians present would instantly agree, "That is not what our church believes?" I'm thinking polytheism maybe.

Mine is an exasperated question, but a real one. The amorphous nature of Anglican theology never ceases to baffle me.


PS Merry Christmas!

JCF said...

I would agree that it has evolved into something else...

Well, here we're of one mind.

...but I still think assent to the articles -- even given rather different metaphysical understandings than were intended by the authors due to shifts in philosophy (i.e., "substance" being perhaps a less useful concept now than it was in those days) -- is a good policy. Personally I have no difficulty with any article of the N-C creed

I'm talking about "shifts in philosophy" re epistemology: how we Know the Divine.

I simply don't believe faith in God has much to do w/ "assent to articles" (what does "assent" even mean? In context?)

The ONLY way I can make sense of the Creed (which is beyond MY human understanding, at least), the only way I can "profess" it, is to sing it (w/o melody, but sung all the same).

I TRUST in God, and therefore I sing to God this ancient song (whose origins are highly disreputable!).

I don't understand it. I don't try to.

It's the "Assent/Anathema" dichotomy which is the mark of Bad Religion, IMO. The Economy of God is SO MUCH BIGGER than that!

JCF said...

"If TEC ever allowed lay presidency or abandoned the Creeds as the test of faith I would regretfully have to join ACNA or a continuing church."

"Whit, I would very likely do as you suggest."

ACNA??? ****Seriously****?


Oh heck, I could join Westboro Baptist: at least they don't purport to be "Anglican"!

Clearly, I need to retire from this thread...

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Fr M., I think y6ou, like others, are seeing only the variables and not the consistencies. Yes, on the surface, there is messiness and disorder -- messier and more disorderly than in Rome, though it too has its odd bits floating to the top, usually safely skimmed off by the Vatican equivalent of a pool boy! To take a case in point, communion before baptism, while proposed and even practiced by some, is definitely "not what this church believes" and one can point to the canon law to that effect, which is short and sweet in its affirmation of the traditional limitation. TEC also has a very clear position on abortion -- with which you (and many Episcopalians) may not agree as it is too permissive for some and not open enough for others. I think exasperation goes with temperament -- those committed to a Magisterial system will naturally find the more open-ended mode of Anglican thinking unacceptable or uncomfortable: perhaps Cardinal Newman was one of these.

JCF, my parish sings the Creed every Sunday! I think you are correct that there is more to faith than simple assent or belief -- hence the epistemological question (I'll be preaching on this in a few weeks so it is much on my mind!) But I have to say I do have a sense about what I mean when I say or sing the words of the creed, some clauses more precisely than others, its true. As Huntington said-- and this is an answer to Fr M somewhat as well -- the issue is not that we have dogma in Anglicanism; we do. It's that we try to avoid the 'multiplication of dogmas' or the raising of every issue to a dogmatic level.

And my agreement with Whit was about going to church in Sydney, not joining ACNA, for heaven's sake. First, they wouldn't have me, but more importantly I am under vows to TEC!

John-Julian, OJN said...

Two comments: it seems that one of the differences between lay presidency and gay ordination/marriage is that no one is "harmed" in the LP issue— some perhaps made unhappy or offended, but not "harmed" (unless they choose to be).

The other thought regarding the early introduction of presbyteral eucharistic presidency is the fact that even now—1900 or so years later—there are still celebrants doing the frumentum thing every time they celebrate—as though they needed some back-up to their legitimate validity.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Fr J-J, not sure I follow the nature of the "harm" here. It seems to me any harm in any of these cases is subjective.

I'm with you on the tradition of the "particle" physics... ;-)

June Butler said...

Tobias in ACNA! I'd like to see the fireworks.

In a previous comment, I said I was not 'anything goes', which is true, but, on the other hand, the thought just occurred to me that God probably would not wish me to be finicky. Jesus was hardly finicky.

Anonymous said...

Fr. Tobias--

First of all, Happy New Year!

Second, like your "pool boy" metaphor. Very true!

OK, I don't think your references to CWOB and abortion really answer my question. Abortion is easier to make my point: it is possible to be a TEC member in good standing and be anti-abortion. AFAIK nobody would threaten an anti-abortion Episcopalian's ability to receive Communion in a TEC parish because of that stance. Whereas while pro-choice Catholics are rampant, they face all kinds of sanctions depending on their amount of their involvement in that position. Most practicing Catholics skirting the pro-choice line know that they are dancing with fire. And no pro-choice Catholic I know would expect to publicly announce his position without expecting an immediate rebuke from his fellows.

There are numerous other items, mostly dogmatic, in Catholicism that draw bright lines.

I'm wondering what that issue is in TEC. I honestly don't see what it would be. What are the dogmas?


Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks Fr M., and a blessed New Year to you as well.

The dogmas of Anglicanism are those of the N-C Creed. Art there people who deny them? Yes. But the "bright lines" are there, even if some ignore them (just as in Rome!) The difference, as my Bishop said recently, is that "I don't have a police force." Discipline in TEC, largely has to rise up from below. (The C of E is another story: as an established church it can employ the actual police, though it rarely does so now. But in the 19th c clergy were arrested for ritual violations!) If there is to be a church trial in TEC, someone has to bring a complaint, at which point it has to be investigated, and if judged to be significant, tried. These things do happen from time to time.

This reflects not so much a distinction in dogma as in disciplinary practice. The core dogmas of the Nicene Faith are alive and well in TEC. And when folks like Spong assail them -- even in as passive a form as offering "theses" for discussion -- a strong and vocal response comes to the fore. Was he brought to trial? No; but several bishops and theologians, including Rowan Williams, addressed his "theses" in published books and essays. That's the Anglican way.

Anonymous said...

OK, I see your point. From an outsider's point of view whose familiarity with TEC is 95% based on what I read on the WWW, it appears that the N-C Creed is not a non-negotiable within TEC when one thinks of Bishops Pike and Spong. But I could believe that the rank-and-file TECsters (and their clergy) roll their eyes when hearing of these bishops' theological escapades. That's nothing that would show up on blogs but could be the near-universal reality on the ground, where faith indeed dwells.

God bless, FrMichael

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Fr M, I think that a fair assessment. Spong, and Pike before him, certainly had their fans -- just as do Borg or Crossan, or even Dan Brown! I don't think any modern church is bereft of those who push the envelope; but I sense that the bulk of the leadership in both our churches try to stay withing the doctrinal lines each holds to -- and many of which we share.

Peace and all good, T.

Daniel Weir said...

The Nicene Creed presents some problems for me, largely because of its use of philosophical language that is, IMV, neither entirely consistent with the biblical witness nor of great help to people today. The biblical witness about the relationship between the Father and the Son is relational and not substanialist. When I pray the Creed at the Eucahrist I have to allow myself to get beyond the philosophical language so that it does not keep me from what that language was trying to convey.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Amen, Daniel. That is the metaphysical issue; that is, the philosophical basis for the language of the Creed was very much of its time (and for a long time after) but is certainly not the language of Scripture (one of the biggest arguments being that homoousious isn't a biblical word -- or concept!) and the substantialist / essentialist world-view began to crumble in the Middle Ages -- though it held on in some important thinkers whose influence kept it running even to this day. Ironically, it all comes down to the famous question of what "is" is! What is the nature of "being" and how is that understood.

As a process theologian, I find the language difficult, and have to approach it with that metaphysical understanding. I think process (or relational) theology is in many ways both more "biblical" and more "modern" than the essentialism that reigned for the middle thousand years from c. 300-1300.

June Butler said...

Daniel and Tobias, what you've both just said makes a whole lot of sense to me...for better or for worse. ;-)

The use by the RCC of 'transubstantiation' to describe what takes place in the Eucharist also puts me off, because of the philosophical language, which seems far from the rather simple instruction of Jesus when he said, 'Take and eat, this is my body. This is the cup of my blood. Do this in remembrance of me.' (Not an exact quote.)

Even as the RCC clings to essentialist view, the very essence of the Eucharist seems to get lost in the philosophical explanation of transubstantiation.

Joe Cassidy said...

I'd love to get into this debate but suspect blogs aren't the best. What the hell...

I suspect that relational: substantial binaries aren't as helpful as they may seem insmauch as the relations constitute the persons of the Trinity. The language of substance is a way of trying to put one's finger (or one's heart) on what the divine persons share --divine life. It is arguably true, though, and perhaps this is what you're all hinting at, that the langauge of substance doesn't do justice to the infinitely dynamic life of the Trinity, where the Father (as Origin) perpetually begets the Son (and will always do so, if we can use a temporal category), who in turn (that's why the Father remains the Origin) does not cling to his equality with God, but empties himself -- not just by being incarnate, but chiefly by being the eternal Son. He receives his life from the Father (not gendered in the Trinity) but does not set himself up as a rival God, and so lets go of that life by re-offering it to the Father: the life they share is neither the Father nor the Son, but the Spirit. My sense is that Nicea gives us a model to speak of this wonderful exchange.

This all gets played out in Jesus' human life. True, the philsophhical/theological langauge is not biblical, but the bible is chiefly narrative, and this is different, and legitimately-so, and has informed some wonderful prayerful contemplations of the Trinity that seem to me to get us to the heart of the matter and set up not just a dogmatic framework but a profoundly ethical one as well. It works for some, at least.

The older I get, the more I appreciate Chalcedon. Docetism is a perpetual temptation and Chalcedon sets a wise boundary. Keeping Jesus' divinity and humanity united, distinct, unmingled, and preventing us from making a hybrid out of him -- these are close to the core of my faith. If I had the courage, it'd be one of those things worth going to the stake over. And, strangely, that's all very philosophical, dealing with natures and distinguishing between natures and persons. And yet, without Chalcedon, we get all kinds of strange takes on Jesus, most of which make him unfollowable and not at all human like us. Despite all the politics of those early councils, the Spirit seems to have been at work.

That said, agree with reservations (no pun) re Transubstantiation: I think it collapses the mystery and does not do proper justice to Jesus' simultaneous real presence and his eschatological not-yetness, which is, I suspect, what sacraments are about and perhaps what the 39 articles might have been getting at when they speak of the doctrine's overturning the nature of a sacrament (this is the first time I've ever defended those articles!)....

Joe Cassidy

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks, Mimi. And Joe, yes, I think that's exactly the issue both for the Trinity and the Incarnation, and the Eucharist. The language of essence gets us too much into the language of "things." God is not a "thing" -- even the "best thing" -- but is the source and fount of all possible "thinginess." As to Chalcedon, well, I'll just say I think the Chalcedonian definition is as important as the Nicene Creed.