August 30, 2013

Old is New

Oscar Watkins writes,

This question is still beyond all doubt one of the most difficult questions on the subject of marriage with which the Church is confronted.

He writes this in 1895*. He is referring to the “question” of whether mixed marriage — that is, marriage between a Christian and a person of a different faith or no faith at all — is permitted, or even constitutes a “marriage.” He notes that in the time of Constantius II (339) marriage of a Christian with a Jew was a capital offense, though this was lessened to equivalence with adultery within fifty years.

By his present (our past) time, the “question” of marriage between persons of opposite sects has come under wider consideration on the Continent, in part due to the opening of the New World to European adventures four centuries prior, and the more recent colonization of the Far East and Africa. Watkins, writing in the thick of things as senior chaplain on Her Majesty’s Bengal Establishment, evidences clear distaste for the “insidious system of Papal dispensations” allowing for mixed marriages in such settings, “without, as it would seem, any attempt to find justification or authority in the mind of the Church.”

For the English themselves, this has not been a lively issue until recently (in Watkins’ terms) as “until the seventeenth century England had no possessions in heathen countries, and that the Jews were expelled from the kingdom from Edward I, and were not re-admitted until the time of the Commonwealth.” Things are changing, however, and this important “question” is now before the church and state of England itself.

In eerily familiar language, identical in tone but different only in number, Watkins summarily concludes that except in the deplorable case of Papal dispensation, “the results of eighteen and a half centuries of Christian teaching and practice are that… marriages between baptized persons and persons unbaptized stand prohibited.”

There has, of course, been a good deal of water under several bridges since 1895. Perhaps one might say the bridges have been washed away. A rubric of the 1979 BCP indicates with limpid clarity that precisely what “1,850 years of Christian teaching” had forbidden is now perfectly licit, and without any dispensation. Interfaith marriage is also now permitted in the Church of England.†

So much for the claim that Christian teaching and practice on marriage has not changed — the requirement of same-sects marriage is a thing of the past.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

* Oscar D. Watkins, Holy Matrimony: A Treatise on the Divine Laws of Marriage (London: Rivington, Percival & Co., 1895), pages 489ff. passim

† see the 2004 GUIDELINES FOR THE CELEBRATION OF INTER FAITH MARRIAGES IN CHURCH from the Mission and Public Affairs Council of the C of E

August 29, 2013

Continuing Discussions Down Under

I've been engaged in a sometimes interesting, sometimes slightly frustrating, Internet conversation on Peter Carrell's blog. It's on the usual topic, same-sex marriage, and I became involved because one of the commenters there alleged as how he had refuted my "trenchant argument" in Reasonable and Holy concerning the necessity of procreation for marriage. His response involved an appeal to the subjunctive, noting that an infertile mixed-sex couple would be capable of procreation if they were capable of procreation, while a same-sex couple would be in a different class. As I noted in my response, this does not actually address the issue of whether procreation is essential to marriage, but only restates that there is a difference between same- and mixed-sex couples, a fact which, on the ground of the participants, no one I know of contests. "Virtual procreation" is essentially meaningless both on logical and moral grounds, and returning the discussion to the relative sex of the couple is circular argument. Even Dr Radner gets into the discussion at one point, and I welcome the opportunity for further conversation with him.

The conversation then quickly moved on to what I regard as some rather thin but fulsomely expressed arguments alleging some kind of likeness between a mixed-sex married couple and the Persons of the Trinity, but I found these suggestions to be confusing if not erroneous (as to Trinitarian doctrine.) Again, no one is arguing that there isn't a difference between a same- and a mixed-sex couple as far as the relative sexes of each couple is concerned. The point of debate is whether this difference constitutes a reason to restrict marriage to mixed-sex couples. It seems that "being able to be analogized to the Trinity" is not a requirement. It is really not ultimately a possibility as the Trinity is not fully analogous to anything in the created order.

As far as the "difference" in the Trinity goes, my argument is that any individual is "different" from (or as the English say, "to") any other; that the difference between the Father and the Son is relational, not substantial (to be technical, a difference in hypostasis, not ousia, in which each is personally distinct by relationship yet each is by nature "God") just as the difference between spouses — as spouses — is relational (a spouse is a spouse by virtue of relation to the other spouse, yet still complete in themselves as individual persons each of whom is by nature fully "human") and that this is the case regardless of the gender of the spouses.

There are a number of other side-streams and assertions in the conversation, including a brief foray into the thesis that the original human was an androgyne split in two (as in Plato's Symposium), but as I note that view does not hold up to a close reading of Genesis 1-3 or how the text was used in the NT references to it.

I commend the whole conversation to those with the patience to wade through it. I hope it provides more light than heat. I continue these conversations largely because they reassure me that I'm headed in the right direction. As I've said before, it isn't for me to convince the prosecution, but the jury.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

August 26, 2013

The Anglican State: On the Edge, or Wandering?

Thinking Anglicans reports on reactions to a sermon by the Archbishop of Canterbury in Mexico. In it, he pictured the state of the Anglican Communion as,

...a narrow path we walk as Anglicans at present. On one side is the steep fall into an absence of any core beliefs, a chasm where we lose touch with God, and thus we rely only on ourselves and our own message. On the other side there is a vast fall into a ravine of intolerance and cruel exclusion. It is for those who claim all truth, and exclude any who question. When we fall into this place, we lose touch with human beings and create a small church, or rather many small churches – divided, ineffective in serving the poor, the hungry and the suffering, incapable of living with each other, and incomprehensible to those outside the church…
For what it’s worth, my concern is not that there is a narrow ridge with obvious precipices to either side, but that the Communion offers a fairly wide path that slopes to each side so gently that one can stray to the extreme without realizing it. That is where I sense the real danger, not in the catastrophic bang, but the subtle whimper; the danger we might just “drift apart” if we lose sight of Jesus; who will, I trust, as the true Shepherd and Bishop of our souls, still seek out those who have wandered afar, whichever way we stray.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

August 10, 2013

Living With the Questions

Thanks to Savi Hensman for a measured response to Andrew Goddard’s essay on the process of the Church of England attempting to come to terms with reality. Pointing out that it is better to be uncertain rather than certain but wrong, she nails the "stopped clock is right twice a day" modality of Goddard.

It can also be noted that the case against same-sex marriage, in terms of Scriptural clarity, is sorely lacking in certainty, and only Scriptural certainty will suffice for Anglicans when it comes to prohibition or mandate. (Article XX) Tolerance or allowance is the generous world in which Anglicans pitch their tents when certainty eludes us, and a reasonable doubt can be raised concerning the prosecution's case.

I explored this aspect of Anglican tradition in a post on Reasonable and Holy Doubt, in response to a long but rather unhelpful review of some of my work on the subject, by Dr Radner. He is also continuing to press what he can make of his case, but still seems to me to be confecting certainty where reasonable doubt is manifest, and proof is wanting, in spite of his impassioned insistence. And the chief problem is that he doesn't appear to recognize that toleration does not need to rest on proof, while prohibition does. Thus, when it comes to Scripture, he can assert (imprecisely) that there are "prohibitions of homosexual acts" in both the Old and New Testament; but while acknowledging these texts are few, he fails to note just how little these texts — none of them definitely referring to female same-sex acts, by the way, and those referring to males very likely limited in scope to particular situations — actually relate to the question of faithful, monogamous same-sex marriage; any more than the numerous prohibitions on various forms of heterosexual activity constitute a restriction on mixed-sex marriage. (Jacob Milgrom has presented the thesis of one of his students  that the Leviticus 18 text — with its partner in 20 the only precise Scriptural prohibition of male same-sex acts — is meant solely to forbid male homosexual incest to the same extent as the heterosexual forms listed in the chapter!)

The arguments from Goddard and others on his side of the divide will do little to convince anyone still on the fence on this matter, though perhaps they may ironically tip a few folks to the affirmative. Fair-minded people don't like what appears to be intolerance. (The debate in the House of Lords revealed the way in which the anti arguments pushed in the opposite direction to their intent, as the sea of pink carnations by the end revealed.)

Meanwhile, Fulcrum might rename itself Bulwark, as the wagons circle in defense of an idea that cannot long stand against the real moral values of love and fidelity, against which there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23)

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

August 8, 2013

8.9.1945 11:02

The bombing of Hiroshima, falling as it does on the Feast of the Transfiguration, and having been the first wartime use of nuclear weapons, holds an ironic pride of place. But lest we forget, Nagasaki was bombed a few days later, with similar devastation. The event is dealt with in tender retrospect in Rhapsody in August, a late film in the oeuvre of the incomparable Akira Kurosawa. This is not, by far, his best film, nor is it my favorite. (That palm goes to Ikiru.) But it is a masterwork nonetheless, perhaps too talky and slow-paced for most audiences. 

One moment in the film, however, is worth seeing the whole thing. At 16'20" the three children, who have been wandering modern Nagasaki looking for signs of the past (as their grandfather perished in the bombing) come upon something in the playground of a school. Silently turning to behold it, the girl holds out her hand and points, and then Kurosawa's indomitable and unblinking camera-eye slowly moves in on the melted relic of a jungle-gym, marked with a simple plaque bearing the moment at which it took its present form, surrounded by a small garden. A solo alto voice sings a mournful melody, as the children approach and instinctively remove their caps. It is a powerful image, one of many delivered by the master's hand in this "small" film on a big topic.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
Another image, and others from the film, can be seen at IMDB here.