March 21, 2014

Form and Substance

James De Koven is one of the "ought to have been" people of the Episcopal Church. He ought to have been a bishop; in fact, he was elected twice (Wisconsin and Illinois) but consent to his election was denied each time. He was considered too "ritualist" by some and so the Episcopal Church's House of Bishops lost the direct insights of a wise and careful and thoughtful man.

Of course, the mistake was in thinking that De Koven's concern was about the external forms — as the epithet ritualist indicates. But the heart of De Koven's eucharistic piety was his firm and unshakeable sense of the substantial presence of Christ in the sacrament. It wasn't about bowings and elevations, about incense and chasubles: it was about Jesus, and his presence made known in Bread and Wine.

All too often the church gets caught up in form rather than substance. Dare I say we are seeing that even in the present debates over the nature of marriage? But as De Koven said of the adoration of Christ in his own context, 140 years ago, "How we do it, the way we do it, the ceremonies with which we do it, are utterly, utterly indifferent. The thing itself is what we plead for."

Some are pleading still. May such wisdom prevail.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
sketch from 3.6.2014

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