May 29, 2014

Thought for 05.29.14

Two enemies there are of doing work;
the one says, “It’s not my job,”
the other, “If I don’t do it, no one will.”

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

May 20, 2014

Marriage as Eschatological Sign

Ephesians 5:29-32 says that marriage is a sign for the relationship of Christ and the Church. Yet Jesus affirms (in Luke 20:35 || Matthew 22:30) that marriage is a thing of this world, and that the children of the resurrection do not marry; that is, that marriage does not endure into the life of the world to come.

Taken together these passages can be understood as indicating the role of marriage as an eschatological sign — a sign of the end and of eternity, in which the redeemed are united in one body (the Body of Christ) just as spouses are united in one flesh. Once that eternal union in the Body of Christ is realized, there is no longer need for the temporal union of marriage. In this sense, marriage is like a sign on a door that truthfully indicates what it declares, but whose function is fulfilled once one has gone through the door into the reality to which the sign pointed. Once the fullness to which the sign pointed is achieved, there is no need for the sign. As Jesus observed in a similar context, reflecting on how the things of this world ("eating and drinking and marrying and being given in marriage... buying and selling, planting and building" Luke 17:27,28) will pass away when the Son of Man is revealed, "Remember Lot's wife." (Luke 17:32).

For centuries it was part of the tradition to see celibacy rather than marriage as the superior earthly sign for the world to come, in which "they do not marry"; but by applying the imagery from Ephesians, marriage is also a sign for another aspect of that world: the union of the redeemed with each other and with the Lord.

So marriage and its opposite (celibacy = non-marriage) both can serve as eschatological signs; one by anticipating (analogically or metaphorically) in this world a state only fully realized in the next, the other by foregoing here a reality whose fulfillment is deferred to the next, but which in its practice anticipates another analogical aspect of that eschatological reality. In the life of the world to come all are celibate (not-married) yet united as One in Christ as he and the Father are One.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

May 18, 2014

A Monk Worth His Metal

Dunstan of Canterbury is one of those tough-minded monastics who, while maintaining a foot in the world of contemplation, also managed to get his hands dirty not only with the stuff of the metal shop but of politics. Like it or not, is to the reforms that he and his colleagues initiated that we owe much of the concept of Established Church, with King and Archbishop working hand in hand. This is perhaps best exemplified in the creation of a full-fledged coronation liturgy.

The irony is that inbuilt tensions in this royal/monastic alliance ultimately contributed to its own eventual downfall in the days of Henry VIII. Perhaps a case of metal fatigue?

The Collect (from Lesser Feasts and Fasts)
O God of truth and beauty, you richly endowed your bishop Dunstan with skill in music and the working of metals, and with gifts of administration and reforming zeal: Teach us, we pray, to see in you the source of all our talents, and move us to offer them for the adornment of worship and the advancement of true religion; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
The icon is part of my "real people" series.

May 14, 2014

Getting Real

The leadership in the Church of England is in the difficult position of wanting to oppose homophobia while retaining a doctrine that gives homophobia its underpinning. They ran into a similar bind when, in an effort to scuttle last year’s changes in civil marriage, they tried to pretend (contrary to the facts) that they had been supporters of the alternative of civil partnerships. Until the church can free itself both from mendacity and illusion, it will make little progress.

The real problem, of course, is that few in the church are willing to admit that “traditional” marriage does not qualify as one of those things that meets the test of Vincent’s canon (“always believed, everywhere, by all”). Yet it acts is if that were the case, talking about a biblical “definition” where one in fact finds myriad “descriptions” and a long and controverted history of reflection as to what constitutes marriage, and a longer series of equally contesting regulations concerning who can marry whom.

Had they approached the latest proposal (adopted by the state) as simply one more variation in an ongoing symphony, perfectly at harmony with much of the foregoing (though clearly dissonant with much of it as well) there might have been some productive dialogue and thoughtful engagement. But the pretense of a monolithic and unchanging “institution” from the time of creation even to this day is risible to anyone familiar with the Bible or the human history which that Bible in part records, to say nothing of the pilgrimage of the institution of marriage under the church’s care.

Marriage is not a proper subject of dogmatic theology, but at most of moral or pastoral theology. There is no core doctrine concerning marriage, and it is doubtful that the subject warrants a doctrine at all, and at least some of the efforts to construct a theological defense of marriage do more harm to theology than help to marriage. The church did very well without much doctrinal reflection on marriage for centuries. The creeds and classical Anglican catechisms are silent on it. The Articles of Religion refer to it as an estate allowed, and available to clergy as they see fit. There is no settled doctrine of marriage, only changing rules, laws, rites and ceremonies — all of these, as the Articles also remind us, subject to amendment by the church.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

May 7, 2014

Show and Tell

Dame Julian of Norwich (1342–c 1417) is among my favorite saints, one whose writings have nourished my spirituality and my theology. She was an English anchoress, dedicated to prayer and contemplation, and in later life a source of wisdom and spiritual direction to other pilgrims.

She was led to this unusual manner of life due to a mystical experience. About the age of thirty she fell ill and was not expected to survive. During this illness she experienced the “shewings” or revelations of divine love, during which Christ in his Passion offered her glimpses and hints of that which is beyond comprehension, but which brought her deep comfort.

Scholars have debated the dates of composition of the short and long texts in which Julian recorded and reflected upon her mystical experience over considerable time. Whenever composed, they are full of a depth of wisdom and clarity of thought. I commend them to reading and study and further reflection, particularly in the nimble and able translation from the Middle English by Fr. John-Julian OJN, who includes both the short and the long versions.

The drawing above is part of my “real-life icons” series, inviting us to see Julian as she may have appeared late in life, when she offered spiritual counsel to another pilgrim, Margery Kempe. I hope I have captured a regard which says, in Julian’s famous words, that “all manner of thing shall be well...”

The Collect
Lord God, in your compassion you granted to the Lady Julian many revelations of your nurturing and sustaining love: Move our hearts, like hers, to seek you above all things, for in giving us yourself you give us all; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

May 2, 2014

Creature Discomfort

Athanasius appears not to have been a cheerful chap. He had a good deal about which to be grumpy, including most importantly the threat that Arianism posed to the Christian faith. In his youth Athanasius attended the Council of Nicea, and he became and remained a powerful opponent of the teaching of Arius that rendered the Son of God a creature. To do this Athanasius had to step beyond the lexicon of Scripture to introduce the word homoousios  to describe the ontological unity of the Father and the Son, being "of one substance," and incidentally meaning just about the exact opposite of what we mean when we say that two things are "substantially the same." (This also demonstrates the principle that the truths of the faith cannot always be completely explained in the language of the Scripture.)

I'm continuing my venture of using living models for some of the early saints for whom no true likeness exists. Athanasius is usually portrayed as a sage elder, but I wanted to picture him more as the stern young man with penetrating gaze and the air of conviction he must have had in Nicea. So I asked my brother in Christ Joseph Basil if he was willing to model, and he agreed. I asked him to give me the hairy eyeball of a stern but concerned RN, and he obliged. So Athanasius is portrayed as one eager to bring the healing that adherence to a strict regimen and protocol provides. (Basil was one of Athanasius' biggest fans, by the way; he called him the "God-given physician of the church's wounds" — so a registered nurse is not too far off!)

Here is the collect for Athanasius:

Uphold your Church, O God of truth, as you upheld your servant Athanasius, to maintain and proclaim boldly the catholic faith against all opposition, trusting solely in the grace of your eternal Word, who took upon himself our humanity that we might share his divinity; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG