January 24, 2015

Tain't taint

There has been a lot of phosphor spilled (or diodes charged?) over the forthcoming consecrations of the first woman bishop in England and a man strongly opposed to such ordinations, in the Province of York. Archbishop Sentamu has laid out his rationale for the scheme of hand-laying that will prevent bishops who have laid hands on women to lay hands on Philip North. Perhaps in the "Don't think about elephants!" category comes the Archbishop's declaration that this is not about a "theology of taint" — yet many are saying, "Pull the other one," and insisting that this is all about fear of hands that have touched women — the testimony of those who have advanced this form of separation notwithstanding.

What few people want to acknowledge in all this is the truth that it isn't about "taint." It is about wanting to make clear the fact that those who take this view simply are not in communion with those who have by their actions supported the ordination of women.

This, to my mind, is much more serious than any alleged fear of girls; for it represents a fundamental schism — if, as has long been the modality, the unity of a church and its being in communion with other churches necessitates a mutual recognition of ministries. These folks don't want to give anyone the impression that they are actually in communion with people with whom they aren't, as "communion" is normally understood.

I think their phrase "impaired communion" makes as much sense as "partial virginity" and wish they were more forthright in simply saying "not in communion" — but these are Englishmen and that is the English Disease of the lack of plain speaking. More deeply, it would also mean accepting that they are no longer really part of the same church — not a church within a church, but a church not touching, surrounded by, within or even close to, another church.

Simultaneous ecclesiastical cake consumption and possession is the key here, not "taint."

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG


JCF said...

Speaking of "don't think of---":

Ever since I started watching "The Daily Show", lo many moons ago, the concept of "taint" has taken on an entirely different aspect! ;-X [See re Urban Dictionary definition]

Erika Baker said...

This whole situation is made even worse because Fr North is not an flying bishop in charge of those who believe like he does, but he is an area bishop in charge of every priest on his patch.

So we will end up with an area Bishop who is not in Communion with his Archbishop, nor with the women priests under his care, or with those male priests who have participated in the ordination of women.

A most astonishing arrangement. And simply dismissed as a courtesy to Fr North and those who believe like him!

I can accept theological difference and I will bend over backward to accommodate it. But here, not based on any reasonable theology at all, the CoE has just changed its whole understanding of the Episcopacy and of the role of a bishop. As a courtesy!

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Ahem. I wasn't going to go there.... Not sure that meaning has spread to the British Isles.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Erika, this is an astoundingly Bad Idea, but I have to say it does not surprise me coming from +York. He likes to dramatize things and this is yet one more pathetic drama that incarnates and reifies the problem very unhelpfully. The notion that courtesy replaces ecclesiology is part of why the Church of England is lost at sea.

G said...

I have to say that what you describe was precisely how I had always understood "taint". That is, not as some kind of levitical defilement, but as meaning that the non-recognition of women priests as belonging to a common presbyterium extended to the bishops who participate in their ordinations. The New Directions editorial cited in in the TA comments did not at all mollify me, and struck me as simply saying "not taint, but [a wordier theological way of expressing taint]."

As someone else pointed out in the same comments, even a Roman Catholic bishop who ordained a woman would not be seen as forfeiting the power of ordination. Any men he went on ordain would be seen as validly but schismatically ordained. (In the east, of course, Cyprian rules the day). If "traditional" Anglo-Catholics really believe the Archbishops have "broken communion" with them, then the present compromise is no solution: they need to find a new home. The entire purpose of the arrangements in place was to keep the lot of them in some kind of communion, however messy. It's no use being a church within a church.

While I'm in sympathy with Kelvin Holdsworth on this, as a North American I can't afford to be quite as pleased with myself as the Scots are entitled to be. After all in several of our dioceses, my own included, there are parishes who remain on their properties and in diocesan synod/conventions, so long as an "alternative" bishop to their liking turns up for visitation. This betrays a deficient understanding of what it means to be in communion, which is about more than who takes confirmations every couple of years. (For that matter, how many Anglo-Catholic parishes even in totally canonically regular situations - none that we know surely! - take the attitude of "Who cares what they do anywhere else?")

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks, G., for the further thoughts. Part of my reason for not liking the word "taint" lies in the fact that those who hold the view reject that term; and I feel it good generally to allow folks to frame their arguments as they see fit.

At a deeper level, the word in itself does have connotations of ritual impurity or taboo, and I do not think that is precisely what they intend.

Still, this logomachia may not be worth much in the long run, for as I say, the issue isn't what you call it but what it actually is -- and that is a more serious matter, as to my mind it strikes at the essence of what it means to be an episcopal church. Bishops not recognizing other bishops, special bishop relationships for "peculiars" and so on seems to me to undercut the meaning of what the church is -- an "assembly" not a patchwork! It is true that different members have different gifts, but this sort of "church in cubicles" seems very wasteful of the gifts.

G said...

As ever you've expressed, and clarified to me, what I think more cogently and charitably than I could! I'm certainly not wedded to the word, but the problem seems to me to be just as you describe it.

John Julian said...

I think there is a double action here: (1) I don't believe women can be bishops, so anyone consecrated by a woman bishop is not REALLY consecrated, and (2) Even though you have been consecrated by all men, if you have dirtied your hands by consecrating a woman, you are morally despicable and ought not to be allowed to consecrate me. (1) is, of course, a theological stance on ordination (such as held by RC magisterium) and can reasonably be argued (although staying a church which consecrates women bishops is dubious itself), but (2) is entirely Donatist heresy and cannot be argued (and ought not to be tolerated).

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Fr. JJ, i do believe that 2 may be in some minds, but as i said i will accept people's explanation of the internal status of mind and heart, not wishing to make windows thereunto. :-)

G said...

But Tobias, I don't think that (2) is speculation: perhaps minus the "morally despicable" part, it is the avowed position of the New Directions editorial, which seemed to me to say pretty clearly that even male bishops consecrated only by other male bishops aren't "kosher" if they participate in such a "communion-breaking" act, by virtue of that participation. We don't need to make any windows for the Donatism charge: their own words convict them.

Now, I'm aware there are opponents of WO who don't hold to (2) and I take them at their word (as you note, 1 without 2 is Rome's official stance). But it seems only fair by the same token to extend the same courtesy to those who openly do profess it, and the ND piece fits in that category from where I sit.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

I don't have the New Directions text at hand (I'm on retreat, just on break after evening prayer), so I can't be precise, but I think the issue I have with "taint" also creeps in with the notion of "unclean." It seems to me that these words carry a connotation (or denotation) of infection or communicability, and I think that is what the folks who object to the terms are objecting to. In other words, for them it is a matter of "defect" but not necessarily one of contamination. The bishops who have laid hands on women have not contracted anything, but have become "false teachers" with whom these guardians of the holy and true cannot have anything to do.

It seems to me that it is the connotation to which they object. Their position is, of course, implicitly Donatist ("heretics cannot validly baptize").

Now back to retreat! Peace and all good.