December 24, 2015

The True Cost of Christmas

There is a trivial observation that "Christmas comes but once a year" but the truth of the matter is that Christmas came but once; all the rest is a commemoration of that once and for all Incarnation.

While families scrimping to be able to purchase some temporary happiness for the kiddies populate the bulky end of the range of economic percentiles, and profligate spendthrifts spending unthriftfully enjoy their narrow one or two percent by buying objects of desire that will ultimately be no more satisfying to them than the toys are to the tots — while all this goes on, this is not the cost of Christmas of which I write. All of this exchange of goods and services is to the cost of Christmas what all those commemorations are to the initial and unique event itself. These are but shadows of the Thing That Was.

For it was on that night some twenty centuries ago that He Who Is became submissive to human nature, to become the child who was born in an ironic exile in his own ancestral home town. This marked the beginning of a life too short by human standards, but long enough by God's to accomplish the great work God intended: to reclaim the whole humanity and to raise it up.

And cost it did. It cost a young woman the chance at an otherwise happy but prosaic marriage; it cost her virtuous virtual husband the joys of an ordinary home. It cost them both their reputations, as the tongues would wag for thirty years about a boy known by his mother's name, rather than her husband's. In the end it cost the boy his life, in a death not easy by any standard, and hard even by the standards of those days, by which time he had come to be known by the name of his ancient ancestor, the singer of songs and slayer of giants, David. And it cost God the act of condescension. I cannot quite accept C S Lewis' strained analogy that this was to God what it would be like for one of us to become a dog, though I take his point to a point. But costly it was for God to become human, for the Word of Life to be made flesh, the deathless subject to unavoidable death.

This son of Mary, son of David, son of God, born in exile and dying on a cross, who lay in his mother's arms at the beginning and the end — he who is beginning and end — he paid the cost of Christmas, and presents it to us as a gift: the one great Christmas gift purchased once for all.

Consider that cost as you worship this Christmas eve and day. Give thanks for the perfect gift, so exquisitely suited to you, to me, a gift we could never afford to purchase for ourselves, but given freely by the only one who could.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

The image is a vision I had of Mary with the infant Jesus and the deposed Christ, a vision of joy and sorrow for Christmas 2015.

December 13, 2015

Verse for Advent III

Happiness is made of spun sugar
and dissolves in the presence of tears.

But Joy is a rock and foundation
that withstands all the waves
of our sorrows and fears.

with thanks to Ken Ironside for his sermon and inspiration

December 11, 2015

Thought for December 11

Socialism, when it doesn't work, is hardly worse than capitalism when it does.

What do I mean by that? Simply that the ideal of socialism (as a system which asks "from each according to ability," and hopes to provide "to each according to need") is a rather noble goal, one which like many a noble goal runs aground on human greed and selfishness, in particular in the tendency of supposedly equitable societies to produce oligarchy rather than equity. This is a flaw and a failure in the socialist programme, but it may be unavoidable.

However, the ideal of capitalism is to some extent the same programme adopted and engaged, driven by those very forces of greed, selfishness, and oligarchy, neatly wrapped up in the "profit motive" that drives the whole system. As with the excuse for faulty software: "It's not a bug, it's a feature," the "bug" that wrecks many socialist endeavors is the main feature of capitalism: profit. Which is why few truly "free markets" are allowed to operate with total freedom, as it doesn't take an economist to see the abuses that result when profit runs roughshod over safety both personal and societal. Some regulation is needed as a curb on profit for profit alone.

It is in large part because I am a realist rather than an idealist that I acknowledge the faults of both (and all other) economic enterprises. They all run into human nature, amplifying at times the worst in us all. But the hope of social economic justice speaks to me as a Christian, and even if it is a fond hope, it is one I will seek to realize in this imperfect and imperfectable world.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

November 7, 2015

Gospel Avoidance: A Thought

Why do so many trendy vicars want to stress the "I'm OK / You're OK" line rather than the good news? But isn't that the good news, you might ask? Well, not really. The good news is what comes after. What comes first is the acknowledgement -- indeed the recognition -- that all is not well with the world or with us, and that we bear some responsibility for that illness. Sin is real, and inescapable, and the human heart is incapable of healing itself, try as we might. That's not good news, and as with a devastating medical diagnosis I can understand people wanting to avoid it.

But there is good news: that there is a treatment for this illness, a salve for this wound, indeed a salvation for the human condition. This is the good news that some seem to avoid, perhaps not willing to acknowledge or recognize the condition that this good news remedies. They literally have no compunction. If all the physician can do is pass along word of inevitable death, reluctance to mention the disease might make some sense, and in earlier days it was a common practice to shield patients from such dismal diagnoses; but when the doctor has the good news that a treatment is available, what reason is there not to acknowledge both the problem of sin and its remedy?

Pelagius was probably wrongly tagged as the origin of this sort of gospel avoidance, or leaping to salvation while downplaying that from which salvation delivers. I think it deeply human. Anyone who has sat as a chaplain by a hospital bedside has seen the urgency with which family members will try to shield their loved ones from a devastating diagnosis or prognosis. But in this case, as dire as the illness, there is a cure. That is the good news. And there is no reason not to share it.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

October 21, 2015

Intimation of Mortality: Conversation with a Tumor

I asked my Cancer, “Why,” and like
a mountaineer it answered me, “Because.”
“But don’t you know,” said I,
“that when you kill me, you will die?”
The Tumor paused, then shrugged, and said,
“That’s life... I mean, we all have purposes,
reasons to exist, a will to live, and, sure,
a sell-by date. My goals are simple,
largely to enlarge, to spread, to colonize.
I realize you are the limits of my world,
and when I’ve built my empire, it will end.
That is my purpose, that’s my goal in life.
But while I am about it, let me ask,
Are you as eager to engage your task?
What is it, anyway? If just to ‘be’
what makes you any different from me?”
I thanked my Cancer for his wise advice,
but still allowed the surgeon to excise
my Tumor... conscious now to spend
a life in purpose lived, before it end.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
October, 2015

Update and disclaimer: This poem represents an imagined conversation from ten years ago. It came to me in a flash as a poem this past week, but the context is that I have been cancer-free for a decade now, and hope to so continue for at least one, or maybe two, more, other health and vitality permitting, and always under God's care and to God's glory!

September 22, 2015

Spectrum of Norms and Customs - And Laws

Early morning thoughts led me to thinking about the range of how norms and customs -- and even laws -- might be expressed in adjectives. This is what came to mind:


Obviously many synonyms could be lined up next to, or in-between, several of these, but the nice spectral number of seven seems just right. It also seems to me that most norms and laws fall somewhere on the ends of this spectrum, but many customs lie closer to the middle. And all of these move about a bit as time passes, custom stales and norms and even laws fall into desuetude.

Anyway, such were my early morning thoughts.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

September 20, 2015

What is an Anglican?

It strikes me that there are two meanings of Anglican, as it is commonly used. It can be understood as a tradition with certain characteristics derived from a historical reality (I assayed an essay on what I think the central characteristics are a decade ago in The Anglican Triad), or more formally as the fellowship of churches in communion with the See of Canterbury, members of the Anglican Consultative Council -- there is a list of membership one can look up. By analogy, one could say that some of the "independent" catholic churches are "catholic" but not officially so from the perspective of Rome, which does recognize a number of non-Latin churches as directly relating to it, but not these "independent" bodies. In the looser sense of heritage, one could say that the Methodists are part of the Anglican tradition, and but for some accidents of history, might still be so formally, and yet may!

The problem with ACNA, as I see it, is that they violate one of the key principles that are a part of that Anglican (and indeed catholic) heritage that I laid out in the essay linked above -- the geographical and canonical notion that there should only be one Anglican jurisdiction in any one place. But neither is ACNA an official member of the Communion (in spite of their recognition by some member churches who say they are in communion with them; but the same can be said of, say the ELCA: with whom TEC is in communion, but that communion with them renders them neither Anglican nor members of the Anglican Communion. The same is true of Porvoo churches in relation to England.)

On the one-church-in-a-location issue, I think that, for a time, the "state" was a good balance point for Anglicanism, reflecting as well the settlement in Europe of cuius regio eius religio -- but that this worked best in an established church, which was the case at the time. The lack of establishment across most of the Anglican Communion today, and the increase in means of communication, have made the "national" ideal much more difficult to maintain, as people have less sense of a legal restriction (though it is still an active canonical principle) and the concept of a network is replacing that of either a pyramid or a hub-and-spoke. That doesn't mean I don't still think the nation or region to be an ideal in Anglicanism, but it may be one whose time has passed.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

September 16, 2015

Schroedinger's Communion

Archbishop Justin is poking his crozier into the body ecclesial by calling for another Primate’s Meeting. He doesn’t seem to appreciate that it is the efforts at tighter bondage that have produced the most tension in the Anglican Communion over the last decades. In a way, the Anglican Communion worked best when little or no attention was paid to its formal (though minimal) “governing” structures — such as they are. Continued attempts to shore up greater unity have only caused more division. There is an old saying that if you keep picking at a wound it will never heal. In this context, continuing to open the lid to check on its status is only killing Schrödinger’s Communion with the death of a thousand cats.

— Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

August 23, 2015

Fit for Purpose

God is working out a purpose for which we have been equipped appropriately... (and how this blog gets its name...

Proper 16b 2015 • SJF • Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
Solomon asked the Lord, “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, much less this house that I have built!

There is a wonderfully useful phrase from the early years of this century, used primarily in England as part of product regulation, advertising, and licensing: “Fit for purpose.” It certifies that a product actually does what it is supposed to do, or is suitable to accomplish the work for which it is designed, created, marketed, sold, and used. Leave it to the English, you might well say — we Americans so often seem to be satisfied with products that not only aren’t fit for purpose, but which readily admit so right on the label. I’m thinking of those health food products that say one thing in big, colorful letters, but in the fine print add something like, “These statements have not been verified” or “Not intended for the treatment of disease.” There was a bit of a scandal a few months back when independent testing of some herbal supplements revealed that not only did they not contain the advertised amount on the label, they didn’t contain any at all!

And how many of us — as we try to invest for retirement or education — are wooed by the offers that claim that they can multiply your money like loaves and fishes, and they say look how well we have done in the past — but then in a little footnote say, “Past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results.” Makes you want to join Arsenio Hall in saying “Hmmmm.”

Such advertising is not just inconvenient; it can lead to a life or death situation, or financial ruin. I doubt anyone will die on account of getting less than the advertised dosage of Echinacea or St John’s wort — but we hear often enough about product recalls to know that when an item isn’t fit for purpose it might be lethal. From defective air-bags to defective ignition switches, automobiles seem to be a focal point for such tragic insufficiencies — and when an automobile isn’t fit for purpose, it can end your, or someone else’s, life.

+ + +

In our Scripture readings today we hear of aspects of our religious heritage that are all fit for purpose in different ways. They have both physical and spiritual aspects. And as the Apostle affirms in so many other things, it is the spirit that is important.

First comes Solomon’s Temple, about which we hear part of Solomon’s prayer of dedication. We heard in the earlier readings over the last weeks from the Court History about how David wanted to build the Temple, but God told him that he had no need of one, and that it wasn’t for David to build anyway, but for his son Solomon. And Solomon clearly understands that the Temple isn’t there because God needs it: God is where God chooses to be, God does not need a house or a home. Solomon admits this in that beautiful prayer of dedication. He knows full well that God has no need of a house to dwell in — in other words, the purpose for which the Temple is “fit” is not for God to “fit” inside. “Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you,” Solomon affirms of God. The Temple is not there because God needs it — but human beings, creatures of flesh and fragile as frail, need to focus their attention, have a sense of direction, to move their hearts Godward — and it is that purpose for which the Temple is fit. It is to be a house of prayer for all people, both Jews and Gentiles, a place towards which and within which prayer is to be made on earth, and God, who is in heaven, will hear those prayers. That is the purpose for which Solomon built it, and for which it stood for hundreds of years, until it came to be abused by the very people for whom it was designed as a holy place. I won’t dwell on that — but just remind us all that when something is designed with a purpose, and is fit for it, it is meant to be used to that end. In time the Solomon’s Temple and its successor came to be misused — not as a place of prayer, but of commerce — and double-dealing commerce at that; as well as being defiled idols set up within it, and even used as a storage shed for somebody’s unused furniture. These were not just different purposes — but bad purposes, real misuses of the holy place.

+ + +

That doesn’t mean that there may not be other purposes or uses for some thing, unintended by the designer. If that were the case, TV’s inventive Mr McGyver would have bit the dust many times over. And who here hasn’t used a paper clip for something other than clipping paper!

We see a bit of that in our reading from Ephesians today, where the Apostle takes the language of military armor and imbues it with spiritual meaning. Everyone knows that in the real world a belt is not truthful — except to the extent it might tell you that you are putting on a little bit of weight! Earthly shoes will not really help you preach the gospel — though a good pair of walking shoes might speed you to your church on Sunday morning. No earthly shield will protect you from evil, nor will a helmet save your soul — though it might save your head if you go on a construction site. And as for a sword being the Spirit of the word of God — well, as a wise man once said, the pen is much mightier than a sword when it comes to telling the truth.

In all of these cases the Apostle is re-purposing these pieces of equipment — like McGyver — to make them fit to the purposes he intends. It isn’t the belt that counts, but the truth it symbolizes; it isn’t the shoes, but the gospel itself; it isn’t the brazen shield and helmet but the power of faith and salvation, not a sword but the living Word of God itself — this divine armor is fit for the purpose of any of God’s armed forces here on earth, ready to stand against the wiles of the devil, or the rulers and authorities of the present darkness, the spiritual forces of evil — some of them perched in high places. These are the purposes for which God’s armor is not only fit, but essential.

+ + +

In our Gospel, we return, as we so often do, to the two things that Jesus gave to his disciples on the night before he suffered and died for us — the Bread and Wine of his own flesh and blood, the gifts of God for the people of God. This heavenly food and drink is fit for the purpose God intends.

You will note that in this passage there are some who do not believe the label — Christ’s words of promise. They are looking for the fine print that says, “These claims have not been independently verified.” They say, “This teaching is difficult” — and surely it was! To be told that you needed to eat a man’s flesh and drink his blood in order to be saved! Who could think that made sense, particularly in a Jewish world in which eating blood any way at all is strictly forbidden, and even a chicken has to soak in salt water to draw out any blood, to make it strictly kosher.

Jesus acknowledges how hard this teaching is — but he promises that those who are open to the spirit will understand and believe; and that even this is the work of God, at work in them, by grace through faith, to give them ears to hear and hearts to believe: ears and hearts fit for God’s purposes, to hear and receive God’s grace.

+ + +

It is three thousand or so years since Solomon prayed in his Temple, some two thousand years since the Apostle wrote of divine armor and Jesus spoke of his flesh and blood. The Temple was destroyed, but many other houses of God — such as this small example in this little corner of the Bronx — have been built since then to help us to turn our hearts and minds in a Godward direction, in the knowledge that God hears and answers our prayers; and as that these places are fit for the purpose of hearing God’s word. Many Christian souls have found God’s armor fit for purpose in combating the forces of evil set against them — heroes of the faith who have shed their blood rather than depart from the purposes for which God intended them. And that bread and that wine of our Holy Communion, the flesh and blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, has nourished countless thousands of thousands with the promise of eternal life.

As the old hymn puts it, “God is working his purpose out.” We, my friends, are called to be fit for that purpose. Gathered in this place, equipped with this armor, fed with this spiritual food, with God’s help so shall we be.+

July 20, 2015

Why the Church?

The "deep magic" of the Church, the great mystery outlined in Ephesians as existing from before the foundation of the world, is the mystery of Unity. It is at the heart of the mystery of God the Three in One. It is reflected in the cosmos that God created in all its multiplicity, coming back into unity in Christ, with the Church being the initial beneficiary of the Incarnation (the reunion of Divinity and Humanity in one Person). If the Church is incapable of exercising its underlying unity in spite of jurisdictional divisions, it has failed in the One Task for which it exists -- as the growing edge of the emergent New Creation, the Body of Christ in which all things in heaven and on earth become One, even as God is One.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

July 10, 2015

The Nature of the Feast

In the old legend, the Grail provided its knight-guardians a eucharistic feast that all of them found to be the food that each liked best, according to his taste. With the growing number of eucharistic prayers and lectionaries now on offer, with more to come, I think we Episcopalians are in danger of reversing this process. We seem to be hasting to replace the simple serving of 'common prayer' with a groaning board of options with little stability from parish to parish or week to week.

I am by no means arguing for a return to the 1928 standard (one eucharistic prayer and one lectionary), but would urge that we not go too far in the other direction. A small set of liturgies and lectionaries, spiced with variety in hymnody, music, ceremonial, and preaching, which we have long enjoyed, seems a more wholesome diet, conducive to nourish faith and community, across time and space.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

July 1, 2015

Comprehension not Compromise

The resolutions concerning liturgies and canonical amendments that will provide for marriage equality have been adopted by the House of Bishops, and will head to the House of Lay and Clerical Deputies by this afternoon. Both resolutions were adopted by very wide majorities in the House of Bishops.

Some have characterized these resolutions as compromises. I prefer to see them as comprehensive. The resolution on liturgies authorizes trial use as provided for in the Constitution, with the mandate that bishops will see to it that all couples have access to the liturgies, while at the same time affirming that the bishop is responsible for directing and permitting these liturgies. This may be too subtle for some, but I believe it will allow the minority of bishops who are personally opposed to marriage equality sufficient conscientious cover, while at the same time requiring them to find ways to provide for couples in their dioceses who wish to make use of the liturgies. This will be a time for creativity and generosity.

The canonical amendment, in the drafting of which I participated, is, in my likely not sufficiently humble opinion, simultaneously orthodox and comprehensive. I challenge anyone opposed to it to point to any line in it that contradicts the teaching of the church. It is true that it omits reference to "man and woman" -- but omission does not constitute denial. Again, some may find this too subtle, but it is true. For on the contrary, this amendment accomplishes exactly what the Task Force on the Study of Marriage was charged with providing: a canonical way to provide for marriage equality, but it does so without contradiction to the opinion of those who oppose such equality. The revised Declaration of Intention is perfectly consonant with the traditional teaching of the church, but equally applicable to all couples. It also implies openness to adoption as well as procreation -- thereby including an extremely important theological, biblical, (and perhaps more importantly) actual reality. And it is, in my opinion, suitable for framing.

The Deputies will have the opportunity to amend these resolutions, but I hope and pray that they will accept them as adopted by the Bishops, and concur. Amendment will mean sending the resolutions back to the Bishops, who may not have the interest or the time to take them up again.

So I beseech all involved to accept this moment of gracious generosity, as the collect for Richard Hooker says, not as "compromise for the sake of peace, but comprehension for the sake of truth." It is true that this comprehension will not satisfy everyone: there are hurting people on both sides; though strangely enough likely in the same dioceses -- where the bishop is uncomfortable to have to implement something he opposes, and couples may have to find creative ways to solemnize their marriage that falls short of their ideal.

I also acknowledge that the pain felt by traditional colleagues -- many of whom I regard as personal friends beyond seeing them as brothers and sisters in Christ and children of God -- cannot be compared with the suffering of gay and lesbian Christians down through the ages and to this day, even in parts of our beloved Anglican Communion. I think I can guarantee that no bishop will be beaten to death for his opposition to marriage equality.

But now is not the time to compare pain with pain, or hurt with hurt. Now is the time for healing, and grace, and with grace it will come. Many of my friends, and I myself, have been recipients of the "generous pastoral response" of this church over the last three years. It is time for the "liberals" among us to be willing to show the same generous pastoral response to those who no doubt feel their world (both sacred and secular) collapsing around them; and I can empathize with that pain, and its depth and reality. I call on all my brothers and sisters to show the same loving toleration that they expect to receive.

For I believe that some day all of us children of God will sit on the great front porch in the kingdom, and like old war veterans roll up our sleeves and compare our scars, and say, "This wound I got me at the Great Salt Lake." Until, that is, our friend comes by -- you know, the one with the wounds in hands and feet and side -- and he gives us that look, and we lower our heads, and quietly roll down our sleeves, and turn to our brothers and sisters, and take them in our arms.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

June 28, 2015

Progress on Marriage

I served on the Task Force on the Study of Marriage that made two proposals to the General Convention; and I'm now serving on the Special Legislative Committee on Marriage to which these and all other resolutions concerning marriage were referred. The Legislative Committee has now reported out all of the resolutions but one (that we may eventually recommend be discharged if the others are adopted).

I'm happy to report that the resolution A037 to continue and expand the work of the Task Force (and its membership) has passed in the House of Bishops and will head to the Deputies shortly.

More importantly, in my opinion, we have amended and greatly improved resolutions A036 and A054. The first of these is the canonical amendment that will bring the canons into full conformity with the Book of Common Prayer while also allowing for marriage equality. This is no mean feat, but I am very happy with the work we did, which involved a good deal of listening and comprehension. Most importantly, the resolution provides language for a new Declaration of Intention that expresses the Church's teaching on marriage in a way that is both beautiful and inclusive. It is cast in the first person plural, and speaks of God's purposes for "our marriage" -- which I think brings it home.

The second resolution will, if adopted, authorize a number of liturgies for trial use under the terms of the Constitution Article X as alternatives to the BCP marriage liturgy. Among these is a version of the 1928 BCP liturgy suitable for same-sex couples. Again, a lot of work went into these liturgies, and the work is bearing fruit.

Both of these resolutions should arrive in the House of Bishops shortly. My prayer is that they pass as they are, without much tinkering in either house.

To those who might think we are moving too fast just to keep abreast of the times, I note that for the Church, the question isn't whether we are married to the spirit of the age, or widows to the spirit of some long-gone age. The question for us is, Are we faithful to our true spouse, Jesus Christ, who is the same for ever and ever? Being true to him may mean growing in unexpected ways to meet the new demands he places before us. God be praised for life and the opportunity to serve!

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

June 16, 2015

Love and Marriage: Thoughts before Utah

This has been a very busy few weeks in various Internet forums concerning marriage equality. Much of the conversation has been at a high level, so high that some have bemoaned the lack of a glossary; while others have just dismissed the theological speculations as having little impact beyond the few who are interested in such things. However, in the interest of continuing understanding, I want to draw attention to several of these essays -- many of them in response to the Report of the Task Force on the Study of Marriage (henceforth TF), or responses to those responses. I do this realizing that General Convention is almost upon us; and I regret not having had the time to draft this response earlier.

The Anglican Theological Review is hosting a conversation page with links to the original TF Report, as well as to a paper by Bauerschmidt et al (henceforth MCC both for the paper and the group of authors) and the responses to it from three academic theologians, and the further response and counter-response. The ATR link page is kept updated, so I simply link to it above, rather than to each individual item on the menu. I am grateful for the acknowledgment in Guiliano's response to Tanner that the original MCC's presentation of Augustine was really more Augustine-as-received-and-finessed by the later church. It certainly wasn't pure Augustine. More on that below.

More helpfully, Craig Uffman has written what I regard as a very helpful essay in constructive theology on the issue. I am particularly taken with his thinking on eschatology from an ethical perspective, shifting from the teleological/deontological split towards something more satisfying and in keeping with a theology that moves in a Godward direction (again more on ethics below).

Then my brother-in-Christ Thomas Bushnell contributed a long response to Craig's essay, in which I think he too advances the discussion in helpful ways; in particular as he raises issues about the unmentionable ("sex!") as central but neglected in the discussion, and provides a very good unpacking of Aristotle's language of causes, which has played a part in marriage conversation ever since the scholastic theologians retrofitted (if that's the right word for an ancient idea lost and rediscovered) Aristotle's notions onto an Augustinian substrate -- rather revising Augustine in the process. (This revisionism is part of what the MCC adopts; to my mind it produces an ethical disaster; but as I say, more on that anon.)

Finally, one of the MCC authors, Jordan Hylden has responded to my earlier piece in response to MCC, claiming that I just don't understand the issues involved. On the contrary, I think it is Hylden and the others in the MCC who fail to grasp the points that the Task Force paper was making, and read into it arguments that simply are not there. As is usual, much of his criticism of my paper asks why I didn't address things I didn't address, and alleges a failure to deal with the real issue, to which I will come very shortly. I promise.

Such pieces add little to the actual conversation, but I am grateful to Hylden for helping me to see where the real divisions lie. These are in areas of ethics and metaphysics, philosophy and moral theology. Which means they are important.

A philosophical difference
One of the chief differences in approach between the TF and MCC lies in the distinction between marriage as an institution and marriages themselves as real instances of a phenomenon. (Those familiar with medieval debates will recognize this as related to one in which William of Ockham was involved.) The TF made this point in its overall thrust towards focusing on the moral values that make a particular marriage holy, rather than in what might make marriage holy as an institution. The TF stresses that moral action is particular, not general, and that it resides in the human heart and will. This also plays into the distinction concerning the various goods or ends of marriage (about which more, from an ethical view, below). Philosophically, this is the difference between idealism and realism. And the MCC and the TF are coming at the issue from these profoundly different perspectives, respectively.

This comes to a head in the discussion of procreation, which appears to be, for many, the stumbling block. From the TF perspective, procreation can be understood as a purpose or good or end of marriage as an institution but need not be understood as such for an actual or particular marriage, and may be an impossibility for any number of specific actual marriages. It seems glaringly obvious to the TF that procreation can take place apart from marriage, and marriage from procreation. It is fine to say, as we have, joining the consensus of the church, that procreation should take place within marriage, but we have rejected the valuation of any given marriage as somehow being less than marriage when the couple do not, or cannot procreate. Many on the other side of the debate also appear to reject that valuation, but their rejection does not seem to follow logically from their basic premise, and to jibe with their rejection of same-sex marriage (at least in part) because it cannot ever even conceivably be "open to life" (as the Roman Church puts it; in a view that is at least consistent in also rejecting contraception.)

This distinction between ideal and real, universal and particular, seems to me to be obvious, and it is embedded in the BCP liturgy with its conditional language concerning procreation ("when it is God's will"). I have come to believe that some will not embrace this obvious reality, in part, because they do not want to cede anything that might appear to allow the marriage of persons of the same sex, for whom procreation is not on the table. But it is equally not on the table for a mixed-sex infertile couple, or a couple advanced in years (for whom even the Roman Church allows marriage, in the one non sequitur in its otherwise consistent teaching). There is a gap between an "ideal" (or virtual) fertility imputed to all mixed-sex couples and the "real" fact that not all mixed-sex or any same-sex couples can procreate. The fact that procreation is ideally a purpose for the institution or establishment of marriage has absolutely no impact on the fact of the a real couple's marriage being fully a marriage, whether they procreate or not. After all, even when procreation happens, it happens some time after the wedding; and there is no suggestion that the marriage isn't a marriage until it has produced offspring. On the contrary, the declaration that the couple are married comes where it does because they have joined hands, exchanged rings, and made their solemn vows -- this is what makes them married. And this is why the TF emphasizes the vows as constitutive of the marriage.

The idealist vs. realist divide is not so great as that between the Ptolemaists and Copernicans, but it is a distinction that runs through the discussions on marriage, and shows up in how the two sides treat the holiness of marriage. The TF holds that marriage as an institution is not our concern. The "institution" or "estate" of marriage is neither good nor bad in itself. (It should be obvious that the "estate" also cannot procreate!) The TF holds that the moral good of marriage is found in the actual marriages themselves, not in some ideal. The virtue of marriage exists in real marriages, or it does not exist at all. Which leads me, at last, to another look at the ethical issues.

The ethical divide
The Task Force sketched out an ethical basis for conversation that was summed up by Kant as treating people as ends-in-themselves, not solely as means-to-an-end. (Hylden wrongly characterizes this as a conflict between Kantian notions and utilitarianism, apparently due to his misreading of the word "utility" in the TF paper, where it is meant in the spirit of how Augustine speaks: in terms of a man's "use" of a woman -- a notion we find objectifying. However, utilitarianism is about a good deal more than mere utility or purpose, and wasn't even on our radar, though we would indeed rule it out as a satisfactory ethic for marriage.) And, of course, the TF is aware that Kant does not disallow the instrumental use of others -- a waiter serving my meal, for instance -- so long as we also respect that service, and that person as an end-in-herself. People may serve one another, but they are not to be objectified as mere appliances.

Part of me regrets that we ever brought Kant into the discussion. It was only because he phrases the ethical issue so clearly. The Task Force paper was certainly not arguing for a wholesale adoption of a Kantian system; for one thing, I don't think his Categorical Imperative on universal maxims is entirely satisfactory. But this one point on treating people as ends is an excellent expression of an idea that is central to Christian morality. We could have left Kant out of the discussion entirely, and simply focused on the same principle as incarnated in the teaching of Hillel, Jesus, Paul, Buber, and Bonhoeffer under a different (or the same) terminology. (Bonhoeffer neatly incorporates this Kantian principle into his social theology -- as essential to sociality -- and his Christology.) Or, in the language of the Baptismal Covenant, respecting "the dignity of every human being."

So this isn't a divide between modernism and tradition, but between a gospel ethic (about which more below) and one nourished by scholasticism.

Unfortunately the Kant reference sent some, such as Hylden, and Don Reed, a philosophy professor whose work Hylden cites, off into 18th and 19th century Enlightenment territory, and the portrayal of the whole discussion as a clash of world-views between classicism and modernism, or communitarianism and liberal individualism -- which is very far from what we intend, and also far from what we actually state, in ethical terms.

The real ethical divide is not between Kant and Bentham (whose utilitarianism -- "the greatest good for the greatest number" sadly forms a substrate of much of modern culture, popular and formal.) The real divide is between what is known as deontological ethics (focusing on duty), and teleological ethics (focusing on ends or goals). These are broad categories, and within each there is a range of thinking, some of it quite contrary even within the group. So, on the duty side you can find, for example, both Divine Command ethics and Kant; while on the goals side you can find utilitarians, but also those who, like the MCC tout a form of ends-based morality that is more or less redolent of Aquinas, based largely on Aristotle. Natural Law ethics falls into this category, and this seems to be the angle from which many on that side of the debate are operating. The MCC have, as I noted, followed Aquinas in dressing Augustine up in Aristotelian clothing -- but my contention is that this suit doesn't really fit, and is inconsistent with Augustine's thinking.

And the problem lies in the fact that the MCC doesn't distinguish between Augustine's original language of "goods" or "fruits" and the Aristotelian language of "ends" or "causes." So the TF and the MCC are speaking different ethical languages. MCC doesn't distinguish between "goods" and "ends"; yet this was the primary point of the TF paper, and it doesn't register in the MCC because they don't appear to see the difference as amounting to anything. Hylden's baseball analogy doesn't really help things very much, beyond perhaps revealing why he doesn't grasp what the TF is saying. He is focused on instrumentalities and levels of performance, about doing good things well, rather than being good and allowing happiness to flow as grace, rather than as the results of works. In this he begs much the same question as Aristotle, for whom it is obvious that justice, courage, and so on are virtues to be practiced, and that happiness lies in the skillful employment of these virtues. But this is not really quite the way Augustine sees things. There is a world of difference between arete and agape.

For it is one thing to speak of procreation, for example, as a goal or end, and quite another to accept it as a good that can, in most marriages, take place. The MCC seem to be presenting procreation as what Aristotle would call a final cause: this is the reason marriage exists. The problem with approaches using such causality, particularly final causality, as Brother Thomas points out in his very helpful examination of the failings of causal language when applied to moral issues, is twofold: it is difficult to fix the absolutely final cause (reason a thing exists) for many things or activities; and it is difficult to attach moral valence to that cause even when you can fix it. Does one play baseball so as to win games, to "play baseball well," or for fun, or for exercise, or to entertain, or to make a six-figure income? The "reason baseball exists" may include all of these things speaking of the institution, but for any particular player of baseball only one or two may apply; and the player may or may not achieve her goal, or be capable of achieving it, whatever it is. Perhaps that person shouldn't play baseball -- which seems to be Hylden's conclusion in his baseball analogy: same-sex couples shouldn't marry because they cannot achieve the principle end of marriage. But this is, as I hope most people used to following these debates can see, begging the question: the assertion that procreation is an "end" of marriage as an institution and in the actual marriages, in a causal sense. That is the very point we contest. We hold that procreation is a blessing that comes to some of those marriages in which it is possible. It is a purpose for the institution of marriage that may or may not be realized, as the BCP say, "when it is God's will." And as it is conditional, it simply cannot be final.

Obviously, it is easy to argue that procreation is not the final cause of marriage -- child-rearing holds a better claim. There is clear evolutionary evidence that marriage helps stabilize the child's environment for growth to maturity; ideally, that is. In the real world, the moral end is not just child-rearing, but, as the BCP stresses, raising a child in the knowledge and love of the Lord. It makes little sense to say, "Every child has a right to be raised by her biological parents," and a great deal of sense to say, "Every child has a right to be loved and cared for, and her parents have a duty to do so; but if they are unable so to do, the child has every right to an alternative upbringing." A good marriage is a context for good child-rearing, whether the child is born to the parents, or adopted. I will reflect below further on the question of the relative moral weight of these two options. And with that in mind, let me turn to the ethical principle that the TF has advanced.

A gospel ethic
The primary ethic the TF discerns in the teaching of Jesus and Paul is what I call Gospel Altruism. This counters the essentially egoist leanings of Aristotle, for whom the main focus is on happiness and "being good." For Aristotle, even self-sacrifice for the sake of ones friends is primarily good because it ennobles and leaves behind a good name -- these are the ends, the teloi.

The altruistic ethic of Jesus is different. When, for example, the rich young man asks Jesus what good deed he must do to inherit eternal life (Matt 19:16ff), Jesus affirms first that "goodness" is with God alone. He then cites duty to obey the divine commandments, expanding on some of the commandments from the Decalogue by adding part of what he regarded as the Summary of the whole Law, to love ones neighbor as oneself. Thus far Jesus in in perfect sync with a deontological ethic of Divine Command. When the man says he has done all this, Jesus ups the ante by saying perfection will only be found in abandoning all his wealth to the poor, and dedicating himself as a disciple. Only a total self-offering can perfectly save the self. In the altruism of Jesus, to lose is the only way to win -- at the end (eschaton) in the kingdom of God: to lose this world only for the sake of the next and final world.

This is the ethic of one who came to serve, not to be served. It is the ethic that stands in response to the ancient question, "Am I my brother's keeper?" It is summed up nowhere so clearly as in Jesus' own exposition of the Golden Rule. I have written extensively about this ethic elsewhere, so here simply note that it is oriented towards the other (altruistic) and positive: it is a commandment to do as one would be done by; not to do good to another so as to receive good in return. There is no goal of recompense in this formula; in fact, Jesus, throughout his teaching, sees doing good in order to get something in return to miss the point. For example, one with this worlds goods is to invite the poor to dinner, precisely because they will not be able to return the favor. (Luke 14:14) The "end" is in the act itself, and in the one to and for whom the good is done; the end and the good are one. (This is the import the TF were attempting to give by using the Kantian formula.) There is, of course, a reward for this good, but it is eschatological, not teleological. It is about the final cause, or ultimate end of humanity, why humanity exists.

Humanity came into existence as the earthly image of the transcendent God. The transitory purpose was to fill the earth and subdue it. But the ultimate end for humanity is "to enjoy God for ever," as one Catechism puts it. God is, of course, the perfect altruist. God is all gift, without any need at all. As creatures, humans do have needs, but the blessedness of God is expressed in human beings when they too give of themselves in mutual service to others, the abundance of one supplying the need of another, bearing one another's burdens in a shared life. In marriage, this is embodied not in the objectifying use of each other but the mutual gift of each to the other. We treat other human beings as ends in themselves because they are the earthly embodiment of the image of God, our final end.

As Augustine put it in his essay On the Trinity (8) the ultimate purpose of all human action is the contemplation of God. But the TF view affirms that as "no one has seen God" in this world, God has given us each other as images of God to practice on -- to take baby steps as children of God; to learn to love God by loving each other, as God loves us, altruistically. As the great theologian of love, John the Divine, reminds us, "Those who say, 'I love God,' and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen." (1John 4:20) And as the ultimate love of God is revealed in the Paschal mystery, so too human beings best express that love in acts that reflect that self-offering.

The principle applied to marriage
This is one reason that Paul picks up on Jesus' Summary statement, "Love your neighbor as yourself," as part of his excursus on marriage in Ephesians 5. As the TF noted, this excursus is not so much to show that marriage is an embodiment of the divine love, as that the divine love is the template upon which marriages should be based -- reflecting the sacrificial love of Christ. (The passage in question is part of a fairly standard sequence of moral advice to households, mirroring and expanding on that in Colossians 3; Ephesians does make more of marriage; but perhaps not so much as some people think.) The great mystery of marriage and its relation to the church is the mystery of self-giving love revealed in Jesus Christ, expounded on earlier in Ephesians (2:13-14) concerning another case of the two becoming one: how Jesus, in his own flesh, has broken down the division between Jew and Gentile. The Apostle's message for married couples, as for parents and children and slaves and masters, is the same as Jesus' own answer to the question about loving the neighbor: "Go and do likewise." That is Paul's conclusion, directed to husbands and wives before he completes the household table setting with advice to children and parents, and slaves and masters.

The original TF paper expounded on the significance of Ephesians concerning this ethic of altruism, but a few additional words are perhaps of use here, to take up, for example, the ethic that ought to inform Christian celibacy. If celibacy is approached as a kind of Aristotelian egoism -- merely to be noble from an ascetic point of view -- it is hard to see how it jibes with the Gospel value of altruism. Only when the celibate has made this choice so as to be of service to others, free from responsibilities to her spouse so as to serve the church, does it rise to the level of Christian virtue. As Paul counsels in 1 Corinthians 7, this is about having an undivided mind focused on "the affairs of the Lord." It is also a conscious choice not to procreate, but it has often in the Christian tradition been cast as a form of marriage, in which the celibate is married to the Lord -- sometimes explicitly so with a wedding band. And, perhaps it goes without saying, the estate of celibacy was held to be morally superior to that of marriage throughout much of the church's history. This is, in particular, an element of Augustine's world-view that scarcely makes an appearance in today's discussions.

Altruism is also important in how adoption, rather than procreation, figures as a dominant image in the Pauline corpus and the life of Jesus (as Virgin-born and foster-fathered). It could well be observed that a same-sex or infertile couple who adopt children and raise them are making an altruistic ethical choice superior to that of biological parents raising their own children; since in doing so one set of couples is fostering the future possibilities of someone else's genetic heritage, while the biological parents are sheltering their own. Again, as noted above, it is the quality of child-rearing that is ultimately important, and there is no question that good child-care is better than bad, and the insistence that children being raised by their biological parents has either an ideal or real virtue is spurious and unsustainable.

These are just a few of the additional implications to an embrace of an ethic of Gospel Altruism. The Task Force report tried to lay out some of this in relation to marriage, and some still seem unable to grasp how this works. I hope this further explanation helps to clarify.

What about sex?
Brother Thomas also said some very good things about sex in his essay. One thing he notes is that sex is usually pleasurable, or ought to be. We need not buy into an ethic of hedonism, however, since pleasure has its place in the "mutual joy" of marriage. The stress is on "mutual" and this fits in with an altruistic ethic when sex is understood not as the "use" of another (the language of much of the tradition), but as the gift of oneself to another. The greatest pleasure in sexual relations is the giving of pleasure to one's spouse, and as each make this gift to the other, "all their occasions shall dance for joy." Of course, the question of "what sex is for" presumes we know "what sex is." And that itself has changed over time.

One of the problems with sex, as with marriage, is attributing to it a final cause (procreation). In reality, procreation is one of the possible fruits of some sex. A Venn diagram would likely be helpful here and I'm sure you can picture it: the three circles are sex, procreation, and marriage. They do come together at the center -- but there is plenty of territory outside that center including some areas where there is no overlap at all. People can deplore sex outside of marriage, or sex within marriage in which procreation is avoided, but sex is still sex, and its ideal purpose or final cause may be different in different minds. So the Natural Law view that there is an intrinsic necessity that sex be open to procreation does not jibe with reality.

A little natural history is probably in order. There was a time when people didn't know that sex was connected with reproduction. The earliest humans likely just thought that most women naturally gave birth at a point in their lives. That was very long ago. Even Adam, still in the Garden, called Eve the mother of all living, and they had to wait to leave the garden and take up agriculture before they put two together to make up one. It was likely agriculture and animal husbandry that brought about the next great observation, connecting sex with procreation. But the theory that explained the process involved attributing the main responsibility for procreation to the male, who planted his seed in the fertile soil of the woman, where it would grow and develop. (Of course, they didn't know that seeds are actually embryos, and the real male contribution is pollen, but theories are theories and reality is reality.) What, under this theory, did the woman provide? Well, the wise observers saw that the flow of menstrual blood stopped with pregnancy, so it must be the blood that was used to construct the growing embryo. This was the dominant thinking in most human cultures for millennia, even up to the invention of the microscope, when the first to look at sperm thought they saw little cows and horses in the respective samples.

This "spermist" view was, to a large extent, the reasoning behind much of the opposition to things that might either confuse or waste the "seed." Polyandry, male homosexuality, sex beyond the time of a woman's fertility, and a man's "use" of other than the "natural" even with his wife came to be seen as wrong. (For the latter, see Augustine, Good of Marriage 12.) Sex was, for most of human history, something men did, mostly to women, sometimes to other men (Leviticus can't conceive of sex in any other way, so it condemns men treating other men like women.).

But as with Ptolemy and Copernicus, we now know that this isn't how sex works. I doubt that many today would support Augustine's doctrine on the mechanism of transmission of original sin (if they even know of his peculiar speculations about sex in Eden, and the willful membrum virile). Moreover, many Christians (even members of church bodies that teach otherwise) no longer hold that sex within marriage without the purpose of procreation is wrong, whether grave or venial. (The view that sex must have procreation as an intended end, and should cease at a certain age, was looked at as "one of those great things they did in the old days" even by Augustine, who admired the asceticism of his forebears; though even he saw that intimacy with one's wife "beyond the necessity of begetting is pardonable" [ibid.] though as with all sex in the postlapsarian world, marred with concupiscence.)

So a principle rationale for the condemnation of male same-sexuality in the tradition is based on a false premise, and a standard to which most no longer hold themselves.

Closing thoughts
Where does this leave us? I sense that the academic debates hosted by the blogs and the Anglican Theological Review and The Living Chuch are not likely going to convince anyone who has contributed to them, probably few that read them. There may, however, be some play among the deputies and bishops who will be gathering in Utah in just under a week. But I don't think it will be the essays or debates that change their minds, if they change. It will be the human face of love.

The claim has been that we must "do the theology" in order to make any changes in our discipline -- and whether you like it or not, the theology has been done, on both sides. I'm grateful for Brother Thomas' essay on the Emperor's New Theological Clothes for pointing out the obvious historical truth that the church does not "do the theology" before acting. Normally it is quite the opposite. After all, the church was content not to have a spelled-out theology of the Trinity for over two centuries, and a (literally) fleshed-out theology of the Eucharist had to wait almost a millennium, and even then the debates continued with sharp differences of opinion.

This is not to say that theological work should not continue, as it is important work. But it is after-the-fact work, work of explanation and understanding, not of action. And, it is hoped, the theological reflection is both rigorous and accountable to the actual evidence of reality, rather than spinning off into idealism. It is up to the church to decide between the world of scholastic categories and the ethics of the gospel. It will be in the lives of married couples -- mixed- and same-sex, that we will see the virtues Jesus valued; or not at all. One of the fruits of this debate is that many have come to grasp more about marriage from their experience of same-sex couples than they ever understood before. This may be how such couples best serve the church. To those who are aghast at such an assertion, I simply point out that it would not be the first time that the stone rejected by the builders proved to be just what was needed to hold the building up.

In the meantime the issues surrounding marriage may really be so simple a child can understand. For instance, here is a dialogue between a father and his five-year old child:

Child: Daddy, why do people get married?
Father: So that they can have children.
Child: But Uncle Jim and Aunt Barbara are married, and they don't have any children.
Father: Well, they love each other very much.
Child: Oh, that's o.k. then.

Is it really as simple as that? This is a dialogue I think St Augustine would have recognized and agreed with; even Aquinas in his better moments would have nodded and smiled. More importantly, so, I think, would Jesus. I would hope such a dialogue would find as friendly response in the episcopal palace and the academy -- for if it does not, I think those who inhabit those cloistered spaces may have missed the point entirely. I pray the point strikes home in Salt Lake City.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

June 10, 2015

One Last Question on the Canon Change

Continued from here

Bishops Benhase and McConnell have posted an essay concerning the proposals coming to the General Convention. They are very concerned about the proposed Canon change, and observe this:

We focus here on good order. Resolution A036 proposes that all clergy will henceforth conform to “these canons concerning the solemnization of marriage,” rather than to “the laws of this Church governing Holy Matrimony.” The manifest problem that this revision seeks to get around is that the Episcopal Church will continue to have contrary laws governing Holy Matrimony in the Book of Common Prayer, a constitutional document. There are constitutional provisions for revising the prayer book. Perhaps that is the conversation we really need to have, but it is hard to see how a canon that directs clergy to disobey the prayer book might help that discussion.

This represents an almost compete inversion of what the proposed canon change will do. Far from "directing clergy to disobey" the BCP, the canon change addresses the current situation, in which we have clergy, operating under "generous pastoral provision," solemnizing same-sex marriages in those states in which the civil law permits, in violation of the current canon, and, if you accept the logic of Benhase and McConnell, in conflict with the BCP as well. It is true that the canon change will do nothing to change the BCP -- or to authorize any other liturgy, for that matter -- but it will remove the problem of clergy being in violation of the canons. And it is only the canon we are proposing to change.

So if the bishops are interested in "good order" as they say, this is a step they should applaud. It introduces no new conflict with the BCP -- that conflict is already there, if you accept their logic -- but it does remove the canonical dissonance, which is actionable under Title IV, in spite of the wink and nod of "generous pastoral provision." That no one is going to take clergy to ecclesiastical court, in those dioceses in which the bishop has permitted use of provisional rites for solemnizing same-sex marriages, is a nice promise, but from a canonist's perspective it is disorderly. We desire good order rather than ambiguity.

For there is no need for such ambiguity. The canon change will not alter the BCP, or the status of the BCP, but it will remove a conscientious burden for those clergy, and some bishops. This was, after all, one of the explicit charges to the Task Force, and the proposal offers a canonical solution to a canonical problem. There will be plenty of time to consider amending or supplementing the BCP, including at this session of General Convention.

When it comes to that liturgical side, the proposed canon change restores language that was part of the canon during the last cycle of prayerbook revision (in 1973), precisely to provide for the use of the trial rites that were issued as part of that process (the earlier form of the canon limiting the rite to the one in the BCP.)

So this canon change actually advances the "good order" the bishops are calling for.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG


And, by the way, the BCP is not "constitutional." Only the Constitution is constitutional. The BCP is sometimes mistakenly called "constitutional" because its amendment process takes two conventions -- but unlike the Constitution itself, amendments to the BCP can be "tried out," as the Constitution describes. Amendments to the Constitution itself, however, are null until approved by two conventions, then they are the law.

This problem arises when people treat the BCP as a law-book instead of a liturgical book. (It has some legal standing where the rubrics are concerned.) Moreover, the BCP itself provides (on page 13) for other liturgies to be authorized. These liturgies would not be needed if they were not in some way different to the BCP, so to argue that such liturgies have to be congruent to the BCP doesn't stand. Besides that, the provisional liturgies for same-gender blessings do not "contradict" the BCP; they simply offer a liturgy for something the BCP did not conceive. The BCP is descriptive, not proscriptive, when it comes to marriage -- otherwise all second marriages (permitted by canon) would be ruled out because the BCP says marriages are "life-long."


May 30, 2015

Being and Doing: A Response to an Essay on Marriage

A few weeks ago, John Bauerschmidt, Zachary Guiliano, Wesley Hill, and Jordan Hylden published a response to the report of the Task Force on the Study of Marriage (TFSM), titled “Marriage in Creation and Covenant,” henceforth MCC. This essay appeared on the Anglican Theological Review website along with three responses from Scott MacDougall, Kathryn Tanner, and Daniel Joslyn-Siemiatkoski. The three responders took up some of the serious problems with MCC and I commend their essays to your attention.

As one of the authors of “Essay 1" (Biblical and Theological Framework) in the TFSM report, I had hoped for a better level of engagement than MCC demonstrates; it is largely and off-handedly dismissive, but also mistaken in some of its characterizations of content, leading me to the conclusion that the MCC authors do not actually understand the argument. I have long been an advocate of the position that one can only truly have a meaningful discussion when you can state your interlocutor’s position in language she can recognize and affirm. MCC fails that test, even to the slight extent it engages with Essay 1 at all — the authors spend most of their time disagreeing with the essay on history, and I leave it to the author of that essay to address their concerns.

MCC to a large extent follows the method of questioning motives and form rather than engaging deeply with the content of the TFSM report. Interestingly enough, this seems to me to reflect the deeper issue of what constitutes marriage: MCC expounds a thesis about the form of marriage as a male-female bond that serves as an icon of the relationship between Christ and the Church in a constructive sense (I hope I’ve understood and stated their thesis correctly); whereas the TFSM focuses on the content of the marriage relationship as expressed in the vows, and in the spouses’ living out the loving mutual self-offering inherent in those vows, as an iconic realization of the relationship between Christ and the Church. Some might say, What’s the difference? We are dealing, to some extent, with the old perceived conflict between being and doing. (It also likely reflects the distinction in the honor given to icons as dulia rather than latria. Some, it seems to me, want to exalt marriage to a place it does not belong. However, in the present context, this also reflects the old difference of opinion as to what constitutes marriage: consent or coitus.

Which gives me the opportunity to correct a misapprehension of MCC, one of the few observations about Essay 1. On page 4, in the context of bemoaning the lack of references to the literature, the authors state,

...Brundage's work makes a brief appearance in "Essay 1" (13), where an incorrect citation is provided, making unclear the reference to a definitive "papal ruling" on the significance of consent and consummation in marriage. Perhaps it refers to Alexander III's Veniens ad nos or Innocent III's Per tuas? It is hard to know; neither said quite what the essay states nor offered a final word.

First, the citation is only “incorrect” to the extent that it fails to include “ff” after the page indicated — the page which marks the beginning of a subsection of a chapter dealing with this issue. More importantly, however, is the coy, and erroneous, rejection of what Essay 1 says, which is, “The eventual papal ruling settled the debate (for Roman Catholics) by taking a middle ground: consent makes the marriage, but consummation seals it.” It is true that “seals” is my language for the more convoluted “renders indissoluble by any human power.” But this is the conclusion reached by Alexander III (not in a single decree but in a process of development through many rulings) and enshrined in the Roman canons to this day (see CCL 1141-42.) As George Hayward Joyce, S.J., put it, in a work written long before our current controversies,

Alexander III... settled the dispute between the Schools of Paris and Bologna about the essentials of marriage. He approved the teaching of the Paris doctors that marriage is effected by the consent of the parties..., rejecting that of the Bolognese canonists who held that until consummation the partners were not strictly speaking married. Yet he did not accept the Paris teaching in its entirety, but retained one important feature of the Bolognese system.... Alexander III, though pronouncing consent to be the effective cause of marriage, taught that until consummation the bond was capable of dissolution. (Christian Marriage: An Historical and Doctrinal Study, Second Edition. London: Sheed and Ward, 1948. pp 430-431.)

Now, this may seem trivial, but it appears to me to indicate a problem that the MCC authors, and many others, have when wrestling with the issues surrounding marriage — same-sex and otherwise. There is a reluctance to place the locus of marriage in the action of marriage, the exchange of vows that makes the marriage, as an act of self-dedication through the human faculties of will and love. Instead there is a repeated retreat — often rhapsodically articulated — to the formal biological reality of male and female. With Augustine, and many since, they emphasize that which is shared with the animal realm rather than that which is uniquely human. (The reponses to MCC detail a few of the other problems with their use of Augustine. I would add to that, their failure to distinguish between sacramental marriage as Augustine understands it, as only existing between Christians, and what is often called “natural marriage” — a point I think fatal to their thesis about the constitutional nature of male-female marriage in and of itself. But that is a point for another essay.)

Of course, the TFSM does not deny this formal reality. However, what we do attempt is to articulate the reasons for our emphasis on the vows rather than the “purposes” of marriage — recognizing that the Episcopal Church did without an articulation of these “purposes” in its marriage liturgy for almost 200 years. But even here MCC misunderstands. For instance, on page 18 they state,

The very idea that marriage is a social form with ends (or purposes, teloi) given by God is not grasped at all; rather, such ends are described as "extrinsic" (perhaps better put, heteronomous) and so run afoul of Kant's categorical imperative never to treat persons as means rather than ends (21, 24). By this argument, we are told that the marriage vows are what really count, as they represent the moral "commitment" that two make to one another, and that the opening exhortation describing the ends of marriage is extraneous to this deeper reality (20-25).

The last sentence approaches but misses an accurate grasp of our position, though why commitment is in scare-quotes escapes me. However, the first sentence here not only misstates the TSFM position, but presents a thesis Essay 1 explicitly rejects as mistaken. Here is what the report says about “extrinsic” and the way in which the TFSM proposes to balance the Kantian ethical concern with the role of the “ends” of marriage (page 23):

Procreation can become a problematical cause or purpose when it is understood primarily as an extrinsic end, rather than as the natural outgrowth of the loving couple treating each other as ends in themselves. It is acknowledged that as the end in this case is a human life, it has its own inestimable worth. It must also be noted that many, if not most couples, desire this end and work together toward its accomplishment; and that the generation of new life is a tangible expression of their mutual love.... Children are a gift and a grace and a hope — but ought not be understood as an extrinsic expectation or demand, in the absence of which a marriage is deemed to have failed in some intrinsic way. Moreover, the greater and more fully realized the love of a couple for each other, the more likely any child who becomes part of the growing family, by birth or adoption, will be nurtured and raised in a way that expresses the familial virtues.

What the TFSM essay does is attempt to give procreation in marriage its proper place and role as reflected in the Prologue to the marriage liturgy: as a positive good (when possible, and “when it is God's will” or as the older (1946) canon put it “if it may be”). This stands in opposition to the rhetoric advanced in some circles that it is an "essential element" of marriage. This has never been the teaching of the church. The confusion arises precisely when one drifts from the language of "goods" or "fruits" into “ends,” "causes," or "purposes." The issue is that the institution of marriage (as the Prologue puts it) may have purposes which never are realized in a particular marriage — and that should not be seen as a reduction in the value of that marriage. The traditional position — which the TFSM paper supports — is that procreation should take place within a loving marriage; not that any given marriage must lead to procreation in order to be a valid and loving marriage that reflects God’s love and generativity.

I hope I’ve adequately addressed these two problems with MCC. A more general concern is that they seem to think that the proposed canon change undercuts the church’s teaching on marriage, and I hope I’ve addressed that in the previous posts on the topic of that change. Obviously, the canon change will remove an obstacle (in some minds) to authorizing liturgies for solemnizing marriages of same-sex couples where it is permitted by civil law, but that in no way alters the teaching concerning the nature of marriage — merely refocuses it on the moral center of marriage, which the tradition holds lies in the couple’s mutual consent to live by the vows they make to each other; not on their capacity to fulfill a “purpose.” It is, in short, the content of marriage, not its form, that ought to be the focus of our canonical, liturgical, and theological attention.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

May 28, 2015

Marriage Canon Q and A Part 2

...continued from Part 1.

Doesn't the canon change stand in conflict with the BCP? Since the BCP supersedes the Canons doesn't this set up a conflict?

As noted in the earlier round of questions, the proposed canon does not change the doctrine of the church on marriage, nor is that the point of the canon change. The issue isn't that "the BCP supersedes the Canons" -- but they are different documents governing different aspects of marriage. For example, the canons provide for remarriage after divorce -- something which is nowhere mentioned as possible in the BCP, which on the contrary (in the Catechism) describes marriage "as life-long." One could see this as a conflict, or recognize that the intent of the two authorities is different. The purpose of the canons is not to lay out a doctrine of marriage, but to describe procedures and rules and requirements for marriage. It is not about "what marriage is" but what the cleric and the couple must do in order to marry. If -- and it is an "if" -- the church continues to authorize liturgies for same-sex marriages, then the canons need to provide procedures that address that reality. The TFSM was charged with the task of addressing this pastoral reality in states where same-sex marriage is legal, and the proposal offers a response, removing the obstacle some feel the current canon presents.

Why do you propose removing the requirement to sign the Declaration of Intention from the Canon?

It's probably helpful to begin by understanding how this requirement to sign a document got into the canons in the first place, as that in part explains why it is no longer necessary in that form (a document is still required, but the content is changed).

The requirement that the couple sign a declaration was introduced to the canons in the late 1940s, as part of the gradual accommodation of the church to remarriage after divorce. As a common ground for divorce (or annulment) is "defective intent," having a couple sign a declaration of their "intent" was felt by many to be a safeguard against later claims on that ground. This language was originally in the canon on divorce, rather than the canon on marriage.

The other circumstance at that time was that the marriage liturgy in the 1928 Book of Common Prayer lacked any of the language now found in the prologue to the current (1979) marriage rite concerning the institution of marriage. So having this repeated in the canons is, to some extent, redundant, as these purposes are now spoken publicly in the sight of the congregation. Perhaps needless to say, the church had functioned quite well without any such statement of purposes for marriage in either the liturgy or the canons for over a century.

Still, to cover the legal ground, some form of declaration is still desired. The one remaining difficulty with the current declaration, as the Task Force essay on the canon notes, is that it is cast in a creedal format: the couple must attest that they "believe" certain statements about God's intention and will concerning the institution of marriage. This creates a practical problem in some circumstances, to which I can speak from personal experience. As a priest, I am regularly faced with having to instruct people about marriage. That includes addressing the allowance, under the canons and the rubric, for the marriage of a Christian to a non-Christian, who could be a Buddhist or an atheist. One can presume that the non-believing or other-believing partner is marrying in a Christian ceremony for the sake of the conscience or wishes of her spouse (or family). She may not believe in God or that "God" has "intentions" or a "will" for either the institution of marriage or her own particular marriage. Should she be required to sign a declaration stating belief in that which she does not believe? Should the cleric refuse to solemnize the marriage if she is unable to affirm "belief" in an arguably un-scriptural notion -- at least as some understand it? I would add that the BCP description of marriage is not even exactly the same as that of the Roman Church -- so should a RC spouse be forced to affirm a description of marriage that is not what her church teaches?

These are real questions and the Task Force has sought to remove this obstacle from the path of a couple in such a situation. Unlike in 1949, the causal language is part of the liturgy -- publicly stated as an exhortation -- but no one is required to subscribe to it as a statement of belief. As the official explanation in resolution A036 says, the current wording of this declaration to some extent problematical when one member of the couple may not be a “believer” at all or may come from a tradition with a different theology of marriage. It should be sufficient that the couple be instructed in, and understand the rights, duties, and responsibilities of, marriage as expressed in the marriage vows; and attest to that understanding as well as to their legal competence to marry.

Finally, as already noted, this declaration forms one of the obstacles to conscience some have felt in extending the generous pastoral support to solemnizing marriages of same-sex couples in places where the bishop approves and the civil law allows. This is an obstacle the Task Force was explicitly asked to address in its charter, so that is an additional reason to remove a statement which some, in conscience, would find very difficult, if not impossible, to sign.

So what about "defective intent"?

As noted above, this remains a reality. So to meet the legal concern about defective intent, the couple is asked to sign a declaration that, in addition to covering all of the canonical requirements (including competency, formerly solely the responsibility of the cleric, and now offering the cleric some cover should the couple later be found to have presented inaccurate or false evidence of competence), states

Sec. 3. Prior to the solemnization, the Member of the Clergy shall determine, and shall require the couple to sign a declaration attesting

(a) that both parties have the right to marry according to the laws of the State and consent to do so freely, without fraud, coercion, mistake as to the identity of either, or mental reservation; and

(b) that at least one of the parties is baptized; and

(c) that both parties have been instructed by the Member of the Clergy, or a person known by the Member of the Clergy to be competent and responsible, in the rights, duties, and responsibilities of marriage as embodied in the marriage vows: that the covenant of marriage is unconditional, mutual, exclusive, faithful, and lifelong; and

(d) that both parties understand these duties and responsibilities, and engage to make the utmost effort, with the help of God and the support of the community, to accept and perform them.

I'm more than happy to answer any further questions that come up, so please post comments here if you have any other questions.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

UPDATE: The questions continue...

May 27, 2015

Chaste Convention

This ember season, Brother Ed, the Minister Provincial of the BSG Province 2, set us the task of meditating on the Brotherhood's vow of chastity. It reads, in part,

Chastity is the decision to live with all in love, with respect for each person's integrity. ... in order to be free to love others without trying to possess or control."

This could not have come at a better time for me, in the run-up to General Convention, to which I am a Deputy from the Diocese of New York, and a member of the special Legislative Committee #20 on all resolutions touching on marriage. As I was also a member of the Task Force for the Study of Marriage, and worked on one of the proposals coming to the Convention, you might think I had a particular horse in this race.

And to some extent I do. All of the Task Force worked hard; and I am disappointed that the work we did has gotten so little close attention -- not to say it has not been responded to, but with vague and mistaken responses that seem to take little account of what the work actually proposes. But when all is said and done, I am resolved not to let whatever happens in Salt Lake City -- either in debate or in decision -- get me down or entangle me in "the desire to possess or control." I resolve to "speak the truth in love" and treat all with whom I disagree or agree with respect for their integrity, and to stand as a witness, not a prosecutor.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

May 18, 2015

Marriage Canon Change Q&A (Part 1)

The A050 Task Force on the Study of Marriage has proposed (in resolution A036) that General Convention amend Canon I.18. The proposal has sparked some conversation and many questions. Some of the conversation is less about the proposed canon change and more about the theological and historical papers that accompany and inform it, and I will address some of those issues separately. But I would like to answer some of the questions, and correct some of the misapprehensions, concerning the proposed canon change, as best I can.

First, though, a disclaimer. Although I served as a member of the Task Force (and as its secretary) I am writing here solely on my own initiative, and other members of the Task Force may have opinions different to mine. But as I was one of the members most closely involved in the creation of the "Biblical and Theological Framework" and the wording of the canon, I think I can offer some perspective concerning matters of "original intent" whatever interpretation another may choose to give to any particular wording.

So, with that established, on to the questions. (And I will present what follows in dialogue format, which is much how it happened in the various threads, blogs, and listservs in which much of what follows originally appeared.

Does the proposed canon change alter the church's teaching on marriage?

The canon does not alter the teaching on marriage as it appears in the Book of Common Prayer. In fact, the proposed change removes the one clause in the present canon that does conflict with the Book of Common Prayer, that "Holy Matrimony is a physical and spiritual union ... entered into within the community of faith." The BCP maintains that marriage involves a "union... in heart, body, and mind," not "spirit" -- and traditional sacramental theology holds that spiritual union is engendered in Baptism and nourished in the Holy Eucharist. This is not to say that a Christian couple may not find their life -- as Christians -- enriched by their marriage, just as the witness of their marriage may inspire others to "find their lives strengthened and their loyalites confirmed." (BCP 430) But since both the BCP and the canons allow a marriage in which one of the spouses is not baptized (and, according to traditional sacramental theology, the particular marriage is therefore not sacramental) any reference to "spiritual union" or "community of faith" does not apply.

So what does the canon change accomplish?

One of the charges to the Task Force was to "consult with the Standing Commission on Constitution and Canons and the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music to address the pastoral need for priests to officiate at a civil marriage of a same-sex couple in states that authorize such." Part of the consultation revealed a consensus that the present wording of the canon made it difficult to exercise this civil function; so an effort was made to remove the language that was perceived as an obstacle. However, nothing in the proposed canon in itself authorizes or requires clergy to officiate at same-sex civil marriages, or blessings of such relationships, unless and until the church provides liturgical texts that allow it. This has happened provisionally, and this provisional status will likely continue for some time.

This opportunity to reshape the canon also allowed for some clarification and more orderly description of the canonical process. The proposed change focuses on the procedures and performance required of the clergy and the couple, which is what canons are best suited to address. The focus, therefore, is not on expounding the "church's teaching," but on the responsibilities of the clergy and the couple, focusing in particular on the vows that the couple will make to each other, and the cleric's responsibility in assuring they understand the gravity and meaning of those vows, and that they not undertake them "unadvisedly or lightly, but reverently, deliberately, and in accordance with the purposes for which it was instituted by God."

Isn't one of those "purposes" procreation?"

"Purpose" is likely a poor choice of words in this context. The more traditional language speaks of procreation as a "good" -- recognizing both that procreation is a biological reality we share with the natural world, and that, as St Augustine put it (Of Marriage and Concupiscence, I.iv), it reaches its crown of goodness when children are "generated to be regenerated," that is, as the BCP stresses, not merely to be born, but to be nurtured "in the knowledge and love of the Lord."

In all of this, it is important to note that procreation is only a factor for a couple capable of it. The BCP uses the somewhat confusing wording "when it is God's will." Earlier liturgies, such as that of the 1549 BCP, simply recognized that there were circumstances, such as advanced age in a woman, that rendered procreation impossible, and that such circumstances were not a bar to marriage. (The Theological Framework essay explores this issue at greater length.)

Now on to some more practical questions, from a Facebook thread, in particular a series of questions from Craig Uffman,.

By your reading, does the proposal allow a priest to conduct a SS marriage rite even if his bishop disallows it in his diocese?

At present, the liturgies for celebration of a same-sex marriage are provisional, and require the permission of the bishop. The proposed canon change doe not alter that; it refers to liturgies authorized by the church, and that includes the form and extent to which they are authorized. The SCLM in proposed resolution A054 asks for authorization of continued use of the "I Will Bless You" liturgy, and for use of three new liturgies with the permission of the local bishop. It is not clear to me whether they intend no longer to require local permission for the IWBY liturgy. I believe that will be clarified in the course of the work of the legislative committee and General Convention sessions, and in my opinion I think the status quo of the proviso will remain.

Does it imagine the possibility of such a rite without mentioning procreation among the purposes of marriage, as the essay argues against?

Those of us old enough to remember the 1928 BCP do not have to imagine a marriage rite with no mention of procreation. The 1928 liturgy only mentions procreation in two optional prayers. The classical 1549 liturgy mentioned procreation in the prologue, but recognized there were circumstances in which it was impossible, and so provided for omission of the prayer for children when the woman was past the years of childbearing. So, yes, it is quite possible to have a marriage liturgy without mentioning procreation, as the Episcopal Church recognized from 1789 and until the 1979 BCP was created.

To what extent is the argument for allowing same sex marriages as a rite connected to a justification based on a civil rights concern? If it is in some way so based, how is it reasonable to have a conscientious objector clause? That is, can a person refuse to marry persons on the basis of the class (same sex marriages)? If yes, how is that exemption tolerable if such discrimination becomes illegal in this nation? Or does our theology exclude the civil rights claim and posit the addition of same sex marriages as a proposal under the doctrine of reception (and therefore in some way leaving space for conscientious objection)?

While some speak of marriage equality in terms of justice -- and I would be among the last to say, given the witness of the prophets in Holy Scripture, that justice is not an important issue! -- that is not the focus of the Biblical and Theological framework, or of the proposed canon change.

When discussing civil rights, it is important to note that marriage is not an "individual" right -- that is, no one has the "right" to marry anyone they choose. The consent of the other party is always needed. (This to some extent addresses the accusation that the move to marriage equality is based on some kind of "social atomism" and "individual rights"; aside from the point that even if it were, such views are not in themselves antithetical to Christian thinking.) Marriage equality is about allowing particular couples to marry who have, for legal reasons, been barred from doing so. The better analogy is with the debates surrounding anti-miscegenation laws, which held that an individual man or woman was in no way impeded from marriage to a person of the same race. (Some have supplied similar unconvincing rhetoric in the case of individual gay and lesbian people.) But marriage is not, as I note, an individual action; it is always social.

That being said, the canon preserves the right of a cleric to decline to solemnize (or, as extended, decline to bless) any given marriage. This could be on the basis of a particular issue (a feeling the couple is not prepared to take on the responsibility) or on the basis of a belief concerning a class of people. In fact, this language made its way into the canon in order to allow clergy to refuse to solemnize the marriage of any divorced person, if they did not believe such people should remarry.

This does appear to conflict with the "non-discrimination canon" (I.17.5) which describes "marital status" as a protected class, along with age, race, and sexual orientation, among other categories. However, the canon contains a specific proviso, "except as otherwise specified by Canons." So, for example, the canons can "discriminate" on the basis of age by setting minimum and maximum ages for service as a cleric. The proviso in the marriage canon was added specifically to allow discrimination on the basis of "marital status." So a cleric is able to refuse to marry or bless a same-sex couple -- or any other couple -- if she has an objection of any sort to that couple's marriage, including an objection to an entire class of marriages. As I note, the proposed canon change preserves and extends this "individual right" of the cleric.

I am happy to follow up on further questions, but I think this is good for now.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

UPDATE: the conversation continues...

May 1, 2015

Web of Tragedy

I have been in Baltimore since Monday, to be met with the unrest following the tragic death of Freddy Gray. This strikes close to home, literally. My Baltimore neighborhood (Bolton Hill) shares the same zip code with the neighborhood in which Freddy Gray lived and was taken into custody, and in which much of the unrest and protest and violence has taken place. This was highlighted in a recent story on the PBS Newshour.

The helicopters have been a nightly accompaniment to lost sleep, and have led me to sundry thoughts, which I share with you in no particular order.

  • The War on Drugs has had little effect on drugs but has impoverished and criminalized whole populations, here and abroad.
  • Who says racism is a thing of the past?
  • When looking police in the eye is a crime, who are the criminals?
  • And when doesn't flight from police seem like a good idea?
  • Abuse of suspects is a heinous crime, even when it doesn't result in serious injury or death. If the "rough ride" is the norm, is it any wonder people hate the police?
  • Some in the BPD seem to believe in taking justice into their own vans.
  • Time to reevaluate flight as probable cause for pursuit.
  • When does what amounts to entrapment become the primary modality of law enforcement?
  • “Resistance is futile” ought not be the motto of law enforcement.
  • When does media coverage become the cause rather than the observer (cue Heisenberg... and I don't mean the meth king of Breaking Bad.) When does covering the news create the news?
  • And speaking of media, since when does freedom of the press mean not obeying the law? There are more media than protestors out after the curfew. 
  • I wish Elijah Cumming would run for President.
  • How does the view from a helicopter differ from the view from a drone, and to what extent does it further dehumanize the populace. (Cue Harry Lime on moving dots from the top of the Ferris wheel in Vienna.)
  • Who doesn't think reactions would be very different if Freddy Gray were white? Of course, were he white the whole situation would be different from the get go, so doesn't that tell us that the problem is systemic?
  • Some kids need to be forcibly reminded that their grandmas now have no where to get their heart medicine.

That's the summary for now. God bless us all, and may sanity prevail.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG