September 29, 2012

Saints and Angels

Michael and Gabriel — two of my earliest efforts at writing icons. They now stand on the gradine at St James Fordham.

It came to mind this morning at the Daily Office that we refer to Michael the Archangel as "Saint Michael" — but that he isn't a saint in the normal sense of the word. Everything about Michael and the other angels is a bit out of the normal, of course. I suppose in the long run that "Saint" here means "Holy One" — as in "Ye Watchers and... " since "Watchers" is also an old name for the angels, as is "sons of God" (see Job, in the NRSV reduced to "heavenly beings.")

Of course there is that old image of the departed "getting their wings" and becoming angels themselves, in the fashion of Clarence from It's a Wonderful Life. Jesus himself observed that at the resurrection those deemed worthy of it would be "like the angels" (attested by Matthew, Mark and Luke; while John does the reverse to have the angel declare that he is only a fellow servant...).

So the long and the short of it is that the heavenly realm is well-populated, and we hope one day to join the population. Whether we become angels or get a work-permit, there will be the endless work of praise to do. In the place beyond time and space, the placeless place, we hope to rejoice forever in timelessness, in pure being-like the Ground of all being, the Three-in-One whose only deed is Love.

All you saints and angels, praise the Lord! Alleluia.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
The full set of icons at the altar of Saint James Church Fordham.

September 26, 2012

Truthful with the Economy

There is a practical difference underlying the philosophical divide between Small Government enthusiasts who want to place societal welfare responsibility on individuals and the generosity of the wealthy, and Big Government types who want to place such programs in the hands of the state: in the former case how things fare will be based on personal strengths, the luck of the draw and the kindness of strangers; in the latter the people affected have a voice in voting for their representatives and framing the laws that will determine the redistribution of resources. While it is imperfect, I trust a system in which I have a direct say over trusting in an oligarchy any day. In some sense, the difference between Nanny State and the Rich Uncle Economy is that you can fire and hire a nanny; you’re stuck with your uncle.

When it comes down to it I suppose I’d be pegged as either a social democrat or a democratic socialist, I reject pure socialism and communism, the former because I have only limited (though real) trust in government, and the latter because I don’t think it works at levels much past a farm, commune, or monastery. I avoid particular party affiliation, and am not registered in one, though I do think, as this all suggests, that the role of government is crucial in the proper redistribution of wealth; a notion I fully support, since I have insurance, pay taxes, and contribute to my church. Some of this is voluntary, but I would have no difficulty with it being mandated, so long as I also have some say in the laws framing the redistribution.

If one were to take the alleged principle behind the Small Government argument to its logical conclusion, you would have only home schooling, people would only build the part of the road outside their house — and only if they have a car and need it; there would be no public libraries or parks or utilities; and so on. Those who favor absolute anarchic capitalism as a matter of principle are few and far between. Most “Small Government” people, including the Tea Party, are basically unprincipled — that is, there is no philosophical foundation to their belief, just a pragmatic notion that less is more, but the less always includes, “I want done what I want done, and not what I don’t.”

To those who say that private charity should be the dominant form of public welfare, I would say that while I think private charity has a role to play, I cannot put my trust in such adhocracy. So I want a voice in the process and think it is part of the government’s responsibility to provide certain services, or at least to coordinate them. (I’m not a pure socialist at heart, and don’t trust in complete government control.)

Part of my reason for this is that relying on charity only works if you assume people are inherently charitable. I wish that were true, but it isn’t. Left to themselves, people tend to accumulate wealth rather than sharing it. Some countervailing force needs to step in to insist people share or “redistribute.” There was a time when the church had the power to be that persuasive force; but now it has to be the government, in part because of the rise of pluralism. Only the government has a kind of universal sway in society — no other institution has that ambit. One only needs to look at the period from the late 19th to the early 20th century to see what happened in the era between Big Church and Big Government, including a world-wide depression caused in no small part by greed.

Let’s face it: Anyone who buys insurance really believes in the redistribution of wealth to minimize personal risk. I honor and respect those willing to hold to a true anarchic position, such as those religious sects who forego Social Security and only help their own. But this is by its own definition a sectarian solution, and not workable for the nation as a whole.

Tobias Stanislas Haller

originally published in similar form at Facebook, where it evoked a lively discussion

September 24, 2012

Thumb on the Scale

The folks at Fulcrum have published what purports to be a theological examination of the difference between marriage and same-sex partnerships. The well-meaning author takes the actual difference (the fact that mixed-sex marriages involve a man and a woman, and same-sex partnerships don't) and then attempts to show how one measures up to a purported standard and the other largely doesn't.

The essay starts well, but gets worse and worse as it goes on. The first section acknowledges that as far as love goes, all couples can on balance fulfill that divine command. But after this hopeful start, things go quickly awry, and the rest of the paper seems not even to take account of points laid out in the opening section.

The second section starts with a concise restatement of a position that is out of keeping with orthodox theology, i.e., that "Heterosexual marriage...  reflects the Unity within Difference seen in the godhead." Now, as anyone who has studied systematic theology knows, there is no "difference" in the Godhead. There is only one "substance" in three "persons." The whole point of the Trinitarian Symbol is that the persons are persons but not "different" from each other in their substance -- that is the paradox that gets lost when one simply talks about human activities like marriage, or family, or social institutions as symbols for the Trinity. It doesn't work; and if it did Trinitarian theology would be ever so much simpler! It is far better to stick with the actual symbolic use of marriage in Scripture: signifying the relationship between God and Israel, or Christ and the Church. Marriage does not reflect the inner workings of the godhead, at least not in the way this author suggests -- where it does, a same-sex couple can do so as well, in accordance with the first section of the essay: for what binds the Godhead inwardly is the essence of God as Love (not as difference) and love is universal.

The third section goes awry on the usual special pleading about procreation, including the caveat that it is talking about the "norm" and leaving to one side infertile, elderly, and other couples who do not fit that norm. The problem in this should be obvious, yet it is a logical slip made again and again on that side of the debate: you cannot argue from a norm with exceptions when we are dealing with something exceptional, and when there is an uneven application of the very principle at hand to allow some exceptions and not others. If procreation is essential to marriage, then no one who cannot procreate should be "married" (but allowed to have a "union").

The final section is the most troubling both theologically and morally. It concludes by asserting, "It is not possible to both affirm the incarnation and assert gay marriage." On the contrary, it is not only possible, I have seen it; in fact I've done it! The author seems to suggest -- it is hard to tell as the idea is so strange -- that somehow same-sex relationships are not "physical." I confess it is very hard to understand whence this strange assertion comes, though it is not uncommon on that side of the divide. In this case it is particularly perplexing as the author recognizes the physicality of eros in the first section of the paper. Indeed the problem most people have with same-sex relationships is the physicality -- if these were simply consecrated friendships few would mind them or take notice; and we all know the age-old "cover" for such relationships was, "they're just very close friends." Though, I hasten to note, even friends are physical -- in their being and their doing. Everyone lives in the real, physical world, and every person has a body, a real body, just like Jesus.

This whole idea that same-sex marriage has a gnostic, docetic, dualist or immaterial underpinning is fantastic. Gay and lesbian people are just as real and physical as anyone else, and for that matter, each is different from any other as any two persons are -- difference is not just about gender or sex, but the radical individuality of each person made in the image of God -- this is where the real "unity in difference" comes in!

I applaud the irenic tone of Grayshon's article, but it misses the mark by 75 percent.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

September 22, 2012

Prayer for Peace

May the God of Peace
so change the hearts
of those who give offense
and those who take offense
that God's Name may be glorified
however known, however spoken.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
I offered this prayer a few days ago on Facebook, and meant to post it here as well. As I have observed before, we cannot always be sure not to give offense (though we can try!) but we do have some control over how much we take offense.

Thought for 9.22.12

I wonder if the individual cells of my body ever wonder, “Is there some greater consciousness that guides or influences my actions?” Do they opine, “I don't care if you want to call it ‘Tobias’ or not, but surely there must be something to explain how we got here, and why things are the way they are.” And do others say, “I don't think Tobias exists. It's just a mythical explanation made up by our ancestral cell-line to explain things that they couldn't otherwise explain. Modern cells are much more sophisticated than that. Don't be such a leukocyte!”?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
who believes that he exists

September 18, 2012

Requiem for Children (1-3)

first part of
Requiem for children: victims of war, famine, and the folly of their elders
for strings, percussion and celesta
based on a 1980 work for unaccompanied chorus and semichorus (in Latin)

MP3 File
I. Introit and Kyrie
Rest eternal grant unto them, O Lord, and let light perpetual shine upon them.
Out of the depths I call to you, O Lord; Lord, hear my prayer.
To you, our God, shall hymns be sung in Zion and vows fulfilled in Jerusalem.
To you all flesh shall come.
Lord, have mercy; Christ, have mercy; Lord, have mercy.
Rest eternal grant unto them, O Lord, and let light perpetual shine upon them.

II. Gradual
Out of the mouths of infants and nursing children, your praise is perfected against your enemies.
O Lord, our Lord, how admirable is your name in all the world.
When I regard your heavens, the work of your fingers
the moon and the stars you established,
what is man that you think of him,
or the son of man that you visit him?
Out of the mouths of infants and nursing children, your praise is perfected against your enemies.

III. Sequence (Dies Irae)
Whoever should place an obstacle before one of these little ones,
it would be more expedient for him to have a millstone hung about his neck
and to be cast into the depths of the sea.
(Full text of Dies Irae. here in a translation courtesy of Fr John-Julian, OJN)

Ah, that Day, that Day of Passion,
Earth exploding, heavens ashen,
Just as prophets’ warnings fashioned.

Ah, the trembling and the shaking
With the Final Judgment breaking;
All the world is crushed and quaking.
Gabriel’s trumpet cries: its singing,
Through the graves of earth is ringing,
All before the throne is bringing.

Death and nature are confounded,
By the rising dead surrounded,
As the call to Judgment sounded.

From the book with all recorded,
Sin is judged and good rewarded;
Thence each verdict is awarded.

When to shame we are committed,
All our secret faults admitted,
Nothing then will be omitted.

How shall fools like us be pleading?
Who will hear our poor entreating
When the best are mercy needing?

Lord of kingly exaltation
Who has offered us salvation,
Pity us in tribulation

Mindful, Lord, that our salvation
Caused Your wondrous Incarnation,
Leave us not to condemnation.

With the labors You have given,
On the tree of suff’ring riven,
Shall we still be unforgiven?

Righteous Judge, for sin’s pollution,
Grant the gift of absolution
Ere the day of retribution.

Through our weeping we implore You;
Shamed and anguished we adore You;
Spare us humbled here before You.

Sinful Magdalen You greeted,
And the dying thief You heeded,
Giving us the hope we needed.

Pray’rs of ours, though undeserving,
You redeem with love unswerving,
From the endless flames preserving.

With Your lambs a place provide us,
From the goats rejected hide us,
To Your right hand may You guide us.

When the wicked are refuted
And to bitter flames deputed,
Let our sentence be commuted.

Low we kneel with hearts entreating,
Worn to ruin by death’s beating,
Save us at our lives’ completing.

On that day of agonizing
From the dust of the earth arising,

Though our sins to guilt subject us,
Of Your mercy, Lord, protect us.

Lord, all-pitying, Jesus blest,
Grant us Your eternal rest. Amen.

Latin, 13th century; tr. John-Julian, OJN, 1992
©Copyright, 1992 by The Order of Julian of Norwich
All rights reserved. Used by permission

September 17, 2012


The General Principles of the English Forward in Faith movement regarding the ordination of women (1994) begin thus:

a) During the unprecedented process of “reception” and “discernment” called for by our bishops and inaugurated by their actions in ordaining and licensing women as priests, it is desirable in all circumstances that the greatest possible degree of communion should be maintained and expressed.

b) We seriously doubt that women so ordained are priests in the Church of God; but we accept that we may prove mistaken. It is doubt about the validity of the orders conferred, and not certainty as to their invalidity, which requires us to distance ourselves from them.
These principles express doubt rather than denial. Elsewhere “sacramental assurance” is spoken of, which I take to represent a similar notion. I find this to be a bit odd; I could more easily understand outright denial of the possibility of the ordination of women, or “certainty as to” the “invalidity” of their ordination, than this attitude of “doubt.”

It seems to me that there is also an effective answer to these doubts: and in a form that is supposed to be recognized as a basic element in Anglican thinking: taken together, two of the Articles of Religion (XXIII and XXVI) ought to provide sufficient assurance to end these doubts: the former making it clear that one should receive as lawfully called and sent whoever is called and sent by those with the public authority so to do. The latter affirms that all who are ordered and consecrated according to Form are rightly, orderly and lawfully ordered and consecrated.

The express purpose of these Articles, at the time of their creation, was to remove doubt concerning ordained ministry and ministers, and to provide assurance. They could still serve in this for those willing to allow the authority of the church to speak to them, however “unprecedented” the process by which such orders have been introduced.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
who himself does not harbor any doubts about the appropriateness of welcoming women into all orders of ministry, just to be clear!

Update: An offline correspondent noted the distinction between validity and legality, or liceity. He is of course quite correct that the issue -- including what is raised in part in the Articles of Religion — hinges on liceity (i.e., “lawfully ordered”) rather than validity as such.

One of the things in the discussions that revolved around the pre-approval ordination of women in Philadelphia was the tension between valid and regular (in the sense of “licit”), and some held that the ordinations were “valid but irregular.” The House of Bishops Theology Committee, held that the necessary conditions for ordination did not exist, including certain of the legal requirements concerning the right of the bishops who ordained lawfully to act as they did. 

Let me also add that the meaning of the word respect in the revised clause of the measure likely has a stronger meaning than “hold in regard” and should be understood as meaning “heed and comply with"” as in “she respected his last wishes.”

September 16, 2012

Thought for 9.16.12

Freedom of speech should be governed by soundness of mind and charity of heart.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
Inspired by James 3:1-12

September 11, 2012

Today -11

September Midday Mass

The tall old priest entered the half-lit sacristy,
fresh from his usual Tuesday morning studies.
The fair-haired acolyte with the bad complexion
was ready, vested, standing in the dimness
quietly. The old priest noticed he was sniffing
and his eyes were red. A failed romance,
he thought; but keeping his own rule on chit-chat
in the sacristy, vested silently.
The old familiar motions and the prayers
displaced whatever thoughts he might have had;
the only dialogue to break the stillness was
the rote exchange of formal preparation.
Then, in one motion as he slipped his hand
beneath the pale green veil, the other hand
upon the burse, he lifted vested vessels,
turned and followed in the sniffing server’s
wake. Eyes lowered to the holy burden
in his hand, he failed to notice that
the chapel for this midday feria —
on other days like this with one or two
at most — was full of worshippers; until
he raised his eyes, and saw the pews were filled —
but undeterred began the liturgy:
the lessons and the gospel from last Sunday,
his sermon brief, but pointed, on the texts.
It wasn’t till the acolyte began
the people’s prayers, and choked out words of planes
that brought a city’s towers down, and crashed
into the Pentagon, and plowed a field
in Pennsylvania, that the old priest knew
this was no ordinary Tuesday in
September —
not ordinary time at all,
that day he missed the towers’ fall.
Tobias Haller BSG
March 8, 2008

September 5, 2012

Going Courting

A collection of cases is heading to the European Court of Human Rights concerning alleged infringements on religious liberty by people forbidden to wear crosses in the workplace and being required to perform civil partnership registrations for same-sex couples, among other related matters.

The thing that strikes me in this is the question of how deeply Christian it is to be concerned about articles of religious clothing or decoration, and the ability to make determinations about the moral status of other parties, refusing to have anything to do with them. WWJD? Perhaps more directly, WDJS (what did Jesus say?) about such matters. Critique of broad phylacteries and fellowship with outcasts seems rather to have been his metier.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
hat-tip to Thinking Anglicans