Archive for December, 2007

Conciliar Anglicanism?

December 29, 2007

Over on Stand Firm, there is an interesting discussion going on, sparked by an article by Matt Kennedy, discussing the Common Cause Partnership and the recently announced Anglican gathering in Jerusalem this summer just prior to the Lambeth conference. In that context, I posted a comment on what made councils of the patristic era “effective” and how that might relate to Anglicanism today. I post it again here, somewhat edited, for anyone interested in pursuing the subject.

In discussing what made for an “effective council” in Christian antiquity and how that might affect us today, we need to consider three things:

1 – what makes anything “effective,”

2 – what made the ancient councils, or anything else ecclesial, effective in the patristic era, and

3 – what would make anything “effective” in the Anglican Communion today.

Since we are discussing the patristic era, I will confine my examples to that period.

  • 1 – Ultimately, what makes anything effective is force, be it the force of the individual or collective will. That force can either be direct, as when I choose to quit smoking or someone else chooses to mug me for my wallet; or it can be represented, as when the traffic cop writing me a ticket represents the will of the sovereign, or a bishop teaching represents the will of God. Furthermore, that force, to be effective, must be accepted, either freely or through intimidation.

    For our purposes, there are broadly speaking two kinds of force: state and moral/spiritual (and if you think this sounds like the old distinction between temporal and spiritual powers, you’re right on target). True, that distinction has often been, and still is, blurred or even erased, but it is still useful here.

    A – state force: this can run from outright state-sanctioned violence (as in executions or war) to the more subtle forms of judges, courts, etc. But even the latter derives its ultimate force from violence, i.e. fines or imprisonment. And, since we can even reject that violence through our own choices of either violent or non-violent resistance, legal or state force still finally requires our individual or collective acceptance, whether on the basis of divine authority, or a free association founded on previously conceded rights, or the sovereign will of the social contract, or whatever.

    B – Moral/spiritual force:

    1 – used loosely and historically, this too can include violence, as in Christian antiquity when monks destroyed pagan temples, or mobs were employed in support of candidates for pope (Damasus in 366). It could be used either for an orthodox cause (e.g. the lynching of George the Arian bishop of Alexandria) or against one (e.g. Theophilus against John Chrysostom, or the Circumcellions on behalf of Donatism).

    2 – More palatably, moral or spiritual force can come either from personal example or from the (accepted) claim, whether of a charismatic individual or a larger community, to represent a divine authority. The latter can be catholic and biblical (e.g. Antony, Athanasius, Nicea) or sectarian and schismatic (e.g. the Montanists, or General Convention claiming that they represent God Himself “doing a new thing”). This force can be

    a) independent of state force; or
    b) it can work together with state force (as when heresy was declared to be illegal at the end of the fourth century); or even
    c) stand against a state force that claims to represent the church (e.g. Athanasius against Constantius, or Maximus the Confessor against monotheletism).

  • So what kind of force made ancient councils effective? The correct answer is “all of the above.” But there are further considerations.

    In a famous case, Paul of Samosata, the bishop of Antioch, was condemned by several synods in the 260s, more than a generation before Nicea. These councils “effected” nothing whatever. Instead, Paul remained in possession of his see, although formally deposed, because at the time Antioch lay outside the empire, having been seized by Palmyra. Only when Antioch was retaken by the empire was Paul removed, and only after Christians referred the case (as a property dispute!) to a pagan emperor, Aurelian. Moreover, Aurelian settled it by declaring in favor of that party in communion with the bishops of Italy, and particularly with the Pope.

    After the persecution of Diocletian at the beginning of the fourth century, both Donatists and catholics appealed to the Pope for judgment. When that went against the Donatsists, they appealed to Constantine; and when Constantine ruled against them, he did not shy from using state force. In spite of that (or because of it?), Donatism became the majority religion in North Africa for more than a century. St. Augustine in frustration concluded that it was morally acceptable to use state force against Donatists, and the decline of Donatism really set in not after any ecclesial condemnation, but when the state, hearing both sides in court over several days in 411 (the best attested legal proceeding of antiquity) decided against the Donatists and officially declared Donatism not merely a schism but a heresy. In other words, it took the Roman state (plus the Vandals) to begin the end of Donatism. What’s more, all of the great councils had the support of the state, being summoned by emperors who believed that unity of empire and church was essential.

    Not that imperial power alone settled what was and was not a truly ecumenical council. The famous (third) council of Sirmium in 357 was summoned by an emperor, the Arian Constantius, and its compromise with Arianism was supported by the majority of bishops in the church. Athanasius of Alexandria and Hilary of Poitiers heroically continued their lonely struggle, but the defeat of the “Sirmium blasphemy” was sealed by its eventual rejection by the whole church catholic, including the Pope.

    Nor could state force alone (in the person of Justinian) bring about the rejection of the Three Chapters (an imperial effort to resolve the differences between Chalcedonian orthodox and monophysite Christians). The Three Chapters controversy was only settled by the fifth ecumenical council (II Constantinople in 553), a council again summoned and enforced by the same emperor, but said council’s acceptance being, like that of Chalcedon, only gradual and incomplete, with a crucial part played by the papacy (parts of Italy remained in favor of the Three Chapters and out of communion with Rome for generations).

    Thus, in antiquity most Christians most of the time had few qualms about using state power to make a council (or anything else the church deemed necessary) “effective,” if such state power were used in their favor. Very few voices were raised against the theory of using the power of the state to enforce orthodoxy. However, if “effective” means “lasting” and “accepted by the wider church,” and if one is looking for a moral/spiritual (as opposed to state) authority that made ancient councils “effective,” you will find it either in the papacy or the gradual acceptance (or if you like, reception) of such councils by the church catholic. But this reception could take decades, and even then might not be truly “universal,” as in the rejection of I Constantinople by the Nestorians (who were, tellingly, outside of the empire), or the rejection of Chalcedon and II Constantinople by both Egypt (within the empire but with a strong national tradition) and Armenia (again outside the empire).

  • So what lessons might all this hold for a future, more “conciliar” Anglicanism?

    Obviously, any form of international Anglicanism will not (thank goodness!) be able to rely on state force in any form. It will not even be able, for the forseeable future, to rely on the general coercion of cultural approval. Nor can it use B 1 above—if the Pope has no divisions, the Archbishop of Canterbury has even less.

    No, the only force on which it can draw will be B 2 a) above—independent moral or spiritual force. But it is critical, in evaluating for example the upcoming meetings at Jerusalem and Lambeth, to consider just what kind of spiritual force is available.

    I have addressed this issue previously. Here I will both summarize and further elaborate:

    The “ancient councils” cited by David Handy+ above had this going for them—they claimed that they either deferred to, or represented, the divine will since they spoke for the whole (catholic, ecumenical) church, which church itself, being the Body of Christ, could pronounce with the authority of His Spirit. This ecumenicity is signalized today in Roman Catholic doctrine by the office of the Pope; in Eastern Orthodoxy by a more generalized notion of catholicity (or sobornost). This works in each case because both churches respectively believe they are the church. They each believe that they are the whole, not a part, of the catholic church, and can appeal to this wholeness. It is this wholeness, this catholicity, this ecumenicity, that allows them not just to speak (anyone can just exhort), but to speak truly, definitively, and indeed infallibly.

    But what if you say that you are only part of the church catholic? What if, by your very nature, you cannot speak ecumenically? For that is what the Anglican Communion has, up until now, explicitly claimed. If we are not the true church but only a part of it, to what can any Anglican council appeal for authority? Because what those who look for a more “conciliar” Anglicanism are asking for is an international institution whose councils carry moral force, but one which at the same time specifically rejects any claim to be the divinely appointed interpreter of the truth. The “ancient councils” were “effective” either because they were enforced by the will of the sovereign or were accepted as the judgment of the entire church catholic, or both. How could any Anglican council today plausibly represent either of these?

    The answer is, it couldn’t and it can’t. So what non-violent, moral or spriritual force can hold us together?

    It used to be that we could refer to a common liturgical tradition, based on the Book of Common Prayer. We were defined by how we prayed, and how we prayed was based on ancient, patristic models which reflected the consensus of the ecumenical, undivided church. But that common liturgical tradition was shattered in the last century, and while I would love to see it revived, the signs of this happening are few and far between.

    Some Anglicans have also, at times, looked to Scripture as the basis for our unity—but a simple appeal to sola scriptura, apart from its obvious drawbacks, has never commanded complete acceptance within Anglicansim and can be found nowhere in our formularies.

    That leaves Tradition, on which I have also already written plenty. But before anyone says, “Ah, but can’t Tradition develop?”, consider that the Anglican Communion, if it is only a part of the church catholic, can have no authority to develop doctrine. Why? Because, once again, such authority is of necessity either that of the ecumenical and catholic church, of which which we claim to be only a part, or it is sectarian and schismatic, which we claim we are not. The Anglican Communion cannot develop doctrine or alter catholic practice, cannot tinker with that which has been received, for the whole church catholic, any more than TEC can do it for the whole Anglican Communion. As I have said many times before, you cannot claim to be only a part and then act as if you were the whole.

    Thus the decisions or decrees of any Anglican council, if it is to carry any moral or spiritual force, can only be local and provisional on the one hand, but must also appeal to the wider, settled Tradition of the whole church catholic on other. Anything less will have no spiritual authority, and anything more will be neither patristic nor catholic, but sectarian and schismatic. But this would entail a (re)examination of much of what passes for Anglican these days.


    Who was that masked man?

    December 27, 2007

    I’m away from home, visting family, doing some library work, and thinking Deep Thoughts (some of which I may post).

    While thus away from my usual haunts, I considered posting something Serious or Thoughtful or Inspiring™, since this is the time of year for this and I do try, as my last few posts show.

    But then I thought . . . “Naaaaah!”

    Instead, just enjoy this.  It’s one of my favorites.

    More Serious Stuff later . . .


    December 21, 2007

    probus adventus

    From A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (1979), adapted:

    παρουσία [parousia], ἡ

    1. presence . . .

    2. coming, advent as the first stage in presence . . .

    a. of human beings, in the usual sense 2 Cor 7: 6f. . . . Phil 1: 26

    b. in a special, technical sense of Christ (and the Antichrist). The use of παρουσία as a technical term has developed in two directions. On the one hand the word served as a cult expression for the coming of a hidden divinity, who makes his presence felt by a revelation of this power, or whose presence is celebrated in the cult . . . On the other hand, παρουσία became the official term for a visit of a person of high rank, especially of kings and emperors visiting a province . . . These two technical expressions can approach each other closely in meaning, can shade off into one another, or even coincide . . .

    α. of Christ, and nearly always of his Messianic Advent in glory to judge the world at the end of this age: Mt 24: 3, 1 Cor 1: 8; 15: 23; 2 Th 2: 8; 2 Pt 3: 4 . . .

    β. in our literature probably only in a few late passages of Jesus’ advent in the Incarnation: Justin, Apology I 52, 3; Ignatius of Antioch to the Philadelphians 9: 2, τὴν παρουσίαν τοῦ σωτῆρος, κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ, τὸ πάθος αὐτοῦ καὶ τὴν ἀνάστησιν [the advent of the saviour, our Lord Jesus Christ, his suffering and his resurrection] . . .

    From Light from the Ancient East [Licht vom Osten], Adolf Deissmann, trans. Strachan (1927), 370-1

    It is the legitimate continuation of the Hellenistic usage that in the Imperial period the parusia of the sovereign should shed a special brilliance. Even the visit of a scion of the Imperial house, Gaius Caesar († 4 A.D.), a grandson of Augustus, was, as we know from an inscription, made the beginning of a new era in Cos. In memory of the visit of the Emperor Nero, in whose reign St. Paul wrote his letters to Corinth, the cities of Corinth and Patras struck advent-coins. Adventus Aug(usti) Cor(inthi) is the legend on one, Adventus Augusti on the other. Here we have corresponding to the Greek parusia the Latin word advent, which the Latin Christians afterwards simply took over, and which is today familiar to every child among us. How graphically it must have appealed to the Christians of Thessalonica, with their conception of the parusiae of the rulers of this world, when they read in St. Paul’s second letter (2 Thess. 2: 8-9) of the Satanic “parusia” of Antichrist, who was to be destroyed by “the manifestation of the parusia” of the Lord Jesus!

    From Striking New Images: Roman Imperial Coinage and the New Testament World, by Larry Kreitzer (1996), ch. 8, “The Roman Imperial Coinage of Hadrian,” 213:

    As I noted in Chapter 6, in the concluding years of his reign (from 134-138 CE), Hadrian produced a large and fairly comprehensive series of coins, gold, silver and bronze, which all bore the reverse inscription Adventus Augusti in some form. These Adventus coins celebrated the arrival of the Emperor in the various provinces and bear inscriptions to that effect, usually accompanied by an additional inscription of the name of the province concerned.

    The numismatic evidence is often alluded to by scholars as they give background information about the term παρουσία itself . . .

    From Handbook for Liturgical Studies, ed. Anscar J. Chupungco (1996), vol I, “Liturgy and the Fathers,” by Basil Studer O.S.B., 77-8:

    In a certain sense we can even speak of a an imperial spirituality. To the extent that Christians identified themselves with the Roman Empire, they borrowed ideas and terms from the political matrix to express their faith in Christ. Almost from the beginning the concepts of salvation and savior entered the Christian vocabulary. But it displayed the marks of Roman soteriology much more in the third century, as Cyprian attests. During the age of Constantine this Roman interpretation of the Gospel of Christ finally gained the upper hand. More than ever, Jesus Christ was honored with the imperial titles or biblical titles reinterpreted. We see this especially in the spread of the title Dominus Salvator. His work was described in triumphal terms. Christians had almost unanimously accepted the idea that unity of belief was the basis for the political unity of the empire. The fact that they were rooted in such a mentality had its natural repercussions in the area of liturgy. Rituals for major solemnities were adapted to the ceremonial of the court. Political vocabulary found its way into liturgical language. The clearest proof of this is the manner of celebrating feasts introduced in the fourth century. We need only recall the acceptance of the idea of the adventus salvatoris. Moreover, it is clear that if this phenomenon of the imperial Church changed the sentire cum Ecclesia, it also favored the Christocentrism mentioned above. The fourth-century Christians’ manner of celebrating the liturgy was determined not only only by a new concept of the Christian community, but also by a renewed reverence for Jesus Christ, the true emperor and king of glory . . .
    constantine adventus

    Ode to Binky, Mike, and CaNN

    December 16, 2007

    Dear reader,

    It must now be recognized that this is the new, permanent home of Rather Not Blog (formerly RatherNotBlog)—so you can change your bookmark for good. I have thus begun the process of restoring such older posts as I can to this address. This will take some time and will not be complete. First, not all of my old posts are available from such sites as the WayBackMachine, though a great many are. Second, comments posted to those old posts have been lost in the process. Both of these losses sadden me, but for the time being there is nothing I can do about it.

    I continue to hope that Mike the Tech Elf of CaNN can restore access to the archives and thus all of my old postings and their related comments. It is to Mike, Binky and the good people of CaNN that I owe this blog in the first place. They offered me free space and free rein, for which I shall be eternally grateful. So we should all pause a moment and say a prayer, both of thanksgiving and of support, for Mike, Binky and all CaNN elves—I mean, they were the ones who invented the whole idea of “webelves” in the first place!

    For a long time, those who sought real Anglicanism on the internet were, for the most part, confined to the ill-humored, occasionally paranoid and compositionally-challenged David Virtue, although his pioneering work in this area cannot be denied and is something for which, at the end of the day, we should be thankful. But on the second day, God created CaNN, which gave us such luminous blogs as Pontifications, the Confessing Reader, Brad Drell, Lent & Beyond, the AAC blog, as well as CaNN’s own news round-ups (which continues) and a host of other blogs and services. For a while, they even hosted the redoubtable Kendall Harmon of TitusOneNine. All of us owe them more than we can ever repay.

    For now, the torch seems to have been passed to StandFirm and TitusOneNine (on StandFirm’s server) as the best websites for news and commentary. But since I began this blog almost four years ago, the Anglican blogosphere has become a much larger and more diverse place. This has its downside—it is possible for the cyberbabble of so many to send the occasional seeker, or even the dedicated infoholic, heading for the nearest exit ramp on the information superhighway. But on the whole this is a good thing. I have enjoyed getting to know so many, both through my own blog and those of others (even if a lot of them do vote Republican or belong to the Red Sox Nation). And I owe this to CaNN.

    I am proud to say that I was (I think?) CaNN’s first blog, followed shortly by the now sorely-missed Pontifications, after which others climbed aboard. I hope we former CaNNanites can retain a sense of community stemming from our origins—someday there should be big party for all of us (unless CaNN’s idea of a good time is a weekend in Manitoba).

    So, all hail Mike! All hail Binky! May the Empire of CaNN rise again! In the meantime, I’ll struggle on. This story is just beginning to get interesting . . .

    “The memory of my Christmas service . . . illuminated by the consoling and eternal Light of God, still remains with me.”—Berlin, 1944

    December 14, 2007

    Hanns Lilje was a pastor, and then bishop, in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Germany. Born in 1899, he took a prominent part in the post-war ecumenical movement, wrote several books, was honored by the Federal Republic of Germany and died in 1977. During the Second World War, Lilje was close to the highly fragmented German resistance to Hitler and National Socialism. After the unsuccessful attempt to assassinate Hitler by army officers led by Count Schenk von Stauffenberg in 1944 (the “20th of July plot”), Lilje, although he had no part in the plot, was taken in the wave of arrests that followed and held in a Gestapo prison with every expectation of eventual execution. He recorded his experiences in a short book, The Valley of the Shadow (Im finstern Tal), published a few years after the war. Below is his recollection of Christmas in the war’s last year.

    Christmas was near. Christmas Eve in prison is so terrible because a wave of sentimentality passes through the gloomy building. Everyone thinks of his own loved ones, for whom he is longing; everyone suffers because he doesn’t know how they will be celebrating the Festival of Divine and Human Love. Recollections of childhood come surging back, almost overwhelming some, especially those who are condemned to death, and who cannot help looking back at their past lives. It is no accident that in prison suicide attempts are particularly numerous on this special day; in our case, however, the most remarkable thing was the sentimental softness which came over our guards. Most of these S.S. men were young fellows, who were usually unnecessarily brutal in their behaviour, but when Christmas Eve came we hardly knew them—the spirit of this evening made such a deep impression upon them.

    At this time we had a Commandant who was human. Although he had risen from the lower ranks to be an S.S. officer, he had remained an honest man, who, although he was harsh, was not brutal, and who often granted us certain facilities, until, on account of his humane attitude, he was removed from his post. Essentially he made more impression on us than his successor, who, in many respects, was also a decent man.

    On this particular evening in the year, this Commandant had made various kind and humane actions possible; for instance, among us there was one who was condemned to death, and was already chained. The Commandant had his chains removed, and his violin was given back to him. This man was a great artist, and his playing was like magic. Presently the great vaulted Hall resounded with the beautiful strains of his violin. As evening fell, I was walking up and down my cell, looking at a Nativity Scene which one of my children had made for me; illuminated by a candle, and decorated with some fir branches, it made my cell look like Christmas. Meanwhile I was thinking about the Christmas Eve service which I had conducted a year before in our Johanneskirche in Lichterfelde. It had been a memorable Christmas: a Christmas festival almost entirely without children, for most families had sent their children away from the city, since it was increasingly exposed to air raids. So the men who were left were chiefly men detained in Berlin by their war duties; or else they were older people, many of them solitary, who were rather indifferent to the dangers of air raids, and did not need to take care of themselves for the sake of other people. In any case, it was a remarkable congregation which gathered in the damaged, ice-cold church for the service on Christmas Eve. As I recalled the service I remembered that I had preached on the words from the Prophet Isaiah: ‘The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light.’ (Isaiah 9.2) At the beginning of my sermon, I had pointed out that when we were children we used to dawdle home after the Christmas service, because we wanted to look into everybody’s windows to see them lighting up their Christmas trees, until at last we reached our own home, and stood spellbound before our own dazzling Christmas tree. This year, however, all the windows were darkened, and the whole world was ‘blacked out ‘. Then I said: ‘This year, we older people, men separated from their families, solitary people, old people, must learn to celebrate Christmas apart from all childish romanticism and all sentimentality, for this year there is no room for this sort of thing’; then, with the help of this prophetic saying, I tried to make clear the real meaning of the Christmas message for ourselves, grown-up people passing through a dark and difficult time.

    I had just reached this point in my reflections, and had just begun to feel a painful longing for a congregation, to whom I might preach the Christmas Gospel on this very evening, at this hard and difficult time, when suddenly, outside my door, I heard my number called. Usually when this call resounded through the wing of our prison it didn’t mean anything good. Too often it meant interrogations, or ill-treatment, removal from the prison, or still worse, but although I was prepared for anything, I really couldn’t imagine that they would do something terrible to me; I rose, and followed the guard who led me downstairs from my cell in the third storey. I was taken directly to the Commandant. In accordance with his usual custom he did not speak, but went on ahead to another cell. Before he entered this cell he turned to the guard, and said: ‘Bring number 212 to this cell too!’ When the heavy cell door was opened a man rose to meet us; at once I saw in him a striking family likeness, and realized that he was Count X. His brother, one of the first to be condemned after the 20th of July, had asked, just before his execution, that I might be allowed to give him the Sacrament, a request that was naturally refused. He had been one of the most frequent attenders at my services, and on the Sunday before his arrest he had joined in divine worship and had received Holy Communion.

    Quite spontaneously, forgetting where I was, I mentioned this recollection to X, but the Commandant interrupted me harshly, saying: ‘I have not brought you gentlemen together for personal conversation!’ Then he added, turning to the Count, ‘ You asked that a certain clergyman, your own friend, might be allowed to visit you this evening in a pastoral capacity. Unfortunately I have not been able to accede to this request, but here is Dr. Lilje, who will address some words to you.’ Now I saw what was expected of me. The Count replied: ‘What I really want, sir, is to make my confession, and then receive Holy Communion.’ Immediately I said that I was ready to do what was required; and the Commandant seemed to have no objection. So a small silver cup was brought, a little wine, and some bread—in the meantime number 212 had also been brought into the cell. He was the violinist who was under sentence of death. The guard was sent out of the cell, so we four men were there together.

    At the Commandant’s suggestion the violinist played a Christmas chorale, exquisitely; then, in this cell, and before this congregation, I read the Gospel for Christmas Day: ‘Now it came to pass in those days there went out a decree. . . .’ (Luke 2.1) The violinist played another Christmas chorale; in the meantime I had been able to arrange my thoughts a little about the passage in Isaiah which had filled my mind when I was summoned downstairs. I said to my fellow prisoners: ‘This evening we are a congregation, part of the Church of Christ, and this great word of divine promise is as true for us to-day as it was for those of a year ago, among whom, at that time, was your own brother—and for all who this year receive it in faith. Our chief concern, now,’ I said, ‘is to receive this promise in firm faith, and to believe that God, through Jesus Christ, has allowed the eternal light to “arise and shine” upon this world which is plunged in the darkness of death, and that He will also make this Light to shine for us. At this moment, in our cells, we have practically nothing that makes the Christmas festival so familiar and so lovely, but there is one thing left to us: God’s great promise. Let us cling to this promise, and to Him, in the midst of the darkness. Here and now, in the midst of the uncertainty of our prison life, in the shadow of death, we will praise Him by a firm and unshaken faith in His Word, which is addressed to us.’ Then, in the midst of the cell, the Count knelt down upon the hard stone floor, and while I prayed aloud the beautiful old prayer of confession from Thomas à Kempis (which he himself had chosen) and then pronounced absolution, the tears were running silently down his cheeks. It was a very quiet celebration of the Sacrament full of deep confidence in God; almost palpably the wings of the Divine Mercy hovered over us, as we knelt at the altar in a prison cell on Christmas Eve. We were prisoners, in the power of the Gestapo—in Berlin. But the peace of God enfolded us: it was real and present, ‘like a Hand laid gently upon us ‘.

    Since the Commandant had obviously done all this without permission, and on his own personal responsibility, he could not allow any further conversation. The violinist played a closing chorale; I parted from my fellow-prisoner with a warm handshake, saying: ‘God bless you, brother X.’ When we reached the corridor the Commandant shook my hand twice, with an iron grip; he was deeply moved; turning to me, he said: ‘Thank you! You cannot imagine what you have done for me this evening, in my sad and difficult daily work.’ I was immediately taken back to my cell, but I praised God, and indeed, I praised Him from my whole heart that in this building, under the shadow of death, and in the face of so much trouble and distress, a Christian congregation had assembled to celebrate Christmas. For it is possible to have every external sign of festivity and comfort and joyful celebrations, and yet not to have a true Christmas congregation, while in the shadow of death and in much trouble of heart a real Christian congregation can gather at Christmas. It is possible for the candles and the lights to blind our eyes, so that we can no longer see the essential element in Christmas; but the people who ‘walk in darkness’ can perhaps see it better than all who see only the lights of earth.

    Upon us shines the Eternal Light,
    Filling the world with radiance bright.

    Shortly after Christmas, Count X was sent to a concentration camp. The violinist was killed by the Gestapo during the last days before the collapse; I have completely lost sight of the Commandant who, soon after this, was removed from his post because he had proved too humane. But the memory of my Christmas service in 1944, illuminated by the consoling and eternal Light of God, still remains with me.

    Hanns Lilje, The Valley of the Shadow (Im finstern Tal)

    Minns to CCP: My way or the highway?

    December 11, 2007

    Last September, representatives of several Anglican organizations—continuing Anglican jurisdictions, organizations still technically within the Episcopal Church such as Forward in Faith and the Anglican Communion Network, the Reformed Episcopal Church, the AMiA, and CANA—came together to approve a statement and a set of articles for the Common Cause Partnership. This has been seen by many as the first step in creating a new, united North American Anglican province (jurisdiction, structure, organization, happy hour club, whatever) that would eventually displace the Episcopal Church, either through direct action or by default as TEC increasingly shrinks into insignificance.

    The agreed statement included the following (emphasis mine):

    4. Those presently-participating bodies which have not yet joined the Common Cause Partnership will decide at the next meeting of their legislative bodies, either to enter the Partnership or leave full membership in Common Cause, becoming observer bodies. It is expected that all presently-participating bodies will be able to enter the Partnership.
    5. We will work together on the regional and local levels and avail ourselves of the various ministries of the Common Cause Partners. We will deploy clergy interchangeably as outlined in the Articles of the Partnership. We are free to invite our fellow bishops in this College to share episcopal acts and our sacramental life.

    The articles of the partnership were followed by three appendices. The third, a list of outstanding problems to be addressed in the near future and entitled “Issues for the Lead Bishops Roundtable” included the following:

    How we will live together with bishops and congregations and dioceses that do ordain women and others that do not ordain women, affirming that we will not violate anyone’s conscience on this matter.

    The CCP, in other words, started out with a noble goal but immediately faced the 800 pound gorilla. All of the “presently-participating bodies” were “expected” to “be able to enter the partnership” and even “deploy clergy interchangeably” but did not, at that moment, know how that would be possible since some bodies “ordained” women, while others did not.

    With unity as a goal, and knowing that as a matter of conscience and theological conviction some of those bodies participating would not, could not, ever “ordain” women, you would think that, at this early stage of formation, when the least bump could upset a very shaky apple-cart, caution would be the order of the day when it came to this contentious issue. In particular, you would think that CANA, representing itself as it does as a mission of the Church of Nigeria, which does not “ordain” women, would show restraint at this delicate moment.

    You would be wrong. Enter +Martyn Minns, the leader of CANA.

    Months ago, the CANA website had the following to say about its position on women’s “ordination”:

    Q16. What is CANA’s position on women’s ordination?
    CANA recognizes that there are differing theological positions in the Anglican Communion about women in ordained ministry. CANA acknowledges the integrity of those who understand Holy Scripture to permit the ordination of women to the priesthood and those who believe the Scripture prohibits women’s ordination. Because of the differing positions, CANA policies regarding the ordination of women will be developed from a biblical and pastoral perspective. This is a matter that is being actively pursued by the CANA clergy and lay leadership.

    This statement is still on the CANA site, but it may have been rendered, in the immortal phrase of Ron Ziegler, “inoperative.”

    In his “Pastoral Call to the CANA Council 2007” of December 6, Bishop Minns declared

    • We will keep our promise to honor both integrities within CANA and fulfill our commitment to the full participation of women, in the life and leadership of the church. We will seek to do so in such a manner that both those who are unable to support the ordination of women and those who embrace it will know that their position has been honored.

    • We will continue to accept applications from qualified congregations and female clergy with the expectation that women clergy will be licensed to continue their ministry within CANA. We will request permission of the Church of Nigeria to ordain appropriately qualified women candidates to the diaconate within CANA as soon as possible.

    • We will continue to look to a task force to continue work on this issue. We will expect them to develop a unified recommendation regarding ways in which we maintain our commitment to both integrities and at the same time provide the necessary theological framework pastoral procedures and canonical provision for the ordination of qualified women to the presbyterate within CANA.

    As I have written elsewhere, just substitute “pluriform truths” for “both integrities” and “LGBT people” for “women,” and there is not a word in this statement that could not have been written by, say, Frank Griswold.

    Too harsh, you say? Consider this from an interview with Griswold in 2004 (emphasis mine):

    I’ve had the advantage of being able to travel to other parts of the world. I’ve been to Nigeria, where I gave a retreat to the bishops of Nigeria and visited a number of dioceses and saw the work and understood some of the complexities of life there. And the same is true also in Uganda. And therefore, I’m very aware of how different the contexts are in which, let’s say, the Anglican Church in Nigeria or Uganda is seeking to interpret and live the Gospel. And then in contrast, I’m very aware of different realities that are present here in the United States. And in fact, one of the primates, not from a Western country, said to me, “I think the Holy Spirit can do different things in different places.”

    Now compare that with this from Bishop Minns’ Pastoral Call, coming just a few paragraphs before his “proposal”:

    Ordination is not only a response to God’s call on an individual but it is also an action of the church. At this time the Church of Nigeria, to which we owe canonical obedience, has no provision for the ordination of women although there has been acceptance of women in the order of deacons. At their most recent gathering the Church of Nigeria’s General Synod tabled discussion about ordination of women to a future date. Archbishop Peter Akinola has stated that while he supports this action he recognizes that there needs to be freedom for CANA to take a different direction because of its North American context. In light of this commitment to embrace both integrities we have received applications from congregations and female clergy with the expectation that women clergy will be licensed to continue their ministry.

    Ah, yes. It all depends on “context.” Sound familiar?

    The next meeting, in fact, of the Common Cause Partnership is December 18. I find it impossible to believe that the timing of Bishop Minns’ proposal, coming less than two weeks before the CCP gathers to examine, among other things, how to deal with this problem, is just a coincidence. It has all the smell of a pre-emptive strike. And calls to “honor” “both integrities” ought to ring hollow to anyone familiar with the last thirty-plus years of the Episcopal Church. The honest thing for Bishop Minns to have said would be “I have decided [ed. note—moved by the Spirit, no doubt] that women can be ordained as priests and that’s what I am recommending. Don’t like it? Join the AMiA or the REC or someone else.” But no, we get the same old dreary song and dance. We’ll “honor” you, so long as you accept priestesses and die off while everyone else wises up.

    But it isn’t only the Common Cause that Bishop Minns is betraying. How about his own church? In the same Pastoral Call, he writes

    In anticipation of this Council I appointed a task force under the leadership of Archdeacon Adedokun Adewunmi and the Rev’d Bill Haley to prepare recommendations as to next steps. The members of the task force included advocates of widely differing perspectives. They are working on a number of possible ways in which we can move forward as a united community while recognizing both integrities. I have asked that they be available to discuss their deliberations with members of this Council. They acknowledge that while they have not yet come to one mind as to a recommended direction they have made enormous progress in the time that they have worked together.

    So even CANA has not come to a common mind, but hey, let’s “ordain” women anyway?

    Sounds to me like CANA should have stayed in Diocese of Virginia. It would have saved everyone a lot of pain and trouble.

    “We know the Word assumed a body from a virgin, and, through a new creation, put on our old nature.”

    December 7, 2007

    We do not put our faith in empty phrases, we are not carried off by sudden impulses of the heart, we are not seduced by plausible and eloquent speech, —but we do not refuse belief to words spoken by divine power.

    These God committed to the Word. The Word spoke, and by these words he turned man away from disobedience, not enslaving him by force or necessity, but inviting him to choose freedom of his own accord.

    In the last days the Father sent the Word. In his plan the Word was no longer to speak through conjecture, announced in an obscure way. He was to be manifested visibly, so that the world could see him and be saved.

    We know the Word assumed a body from a virgin, and, through a new creation, put on our old nature. We know that he was a man, formed from the same substance as we are. If he were not of the same nature as ourselves, his command to imitate him as master would be a futile one. If he was of a different substance, why does he command me, naturally weak as I am, to do as he did? How can he be good and just?

    To show that he was not different from us, he undertook hard work, he went hungry and thirsty, he took rest and sleep, he did not shirk suffering, he revealed the resurrection. In all this he offered his own self, so that when you suffered you would not lose heart, but rather would recognize that you are a man, and would yourself expect to receive what he received from God.

    When you have learned to know the true God, you will have a body immortal and incorruptible, like your soul; you will gain the kingdom of heaven, you who have lived on earth and knew the king of heaven; freed from passion, suffering and disease, you will be a companion of God and a co-heir with Christ, for you have become a god.

    All that you had to suffer as a man, God gave you, because you were a man. All that belongs to God, he has promised to give you, because you have been deified and have become immortal. That is what it means to know yourself, to recognize the God who made you: to know and to be known is the lot of the man called by God.

    And so, men, do not be hostile to one another, do not hesitate to return. Christ who is God, supreme over all, has arranged to wash man clean of sin and to make our old nature new. From the beginning he called this old nature his image, and in this way gave you a sign of his love for you. If you obey his sacred commandments, if you become a good follower of him who is good, you will become like him, you will be honoured by him. God is not lacking in anything, and he made you also a god for his glory.

    St. Hippolytus of Rome, c. 180-239 AD, The Refutation of All Heresies

    The Last Refuge

    December 4, 2007

    Recently, the weekly e-mail communiqué of the Episcopal Diocese of Arkansas (#293, dated Thursday, November 29, 2007) was forwarded to me, wherein the bishop, Larry Benfield, states

    This week I have read several books about a fourth century group of North African Christians called the Donatists. What brought them to the attention of the rest of the Christian world is that they were upset with the actions of certain bishops. During Christian persecutions these bishops had caved in to pressure and had turned over copies of the gospels to the authorities for destruction. Now that the persecutions were over, they attempted to return to their job of leading congregations and ordaining new bishops.

    The North African Donatists were furious, so furious in fact that they refused to be in communion with the bishops and refused to be in communion with anyone the bishops had ordained or even baptized. These Donatists established their own churches, ordained their own bishops, and for almost one hundred years became the predominant expression of Christianity in that part of the world.

    Finally the larger church, especially in the person of Bishop Augustine of Hippo, brought an end to the madness. He stated that the church’s life is not dependent on the purity of its clergy. Our common unity as Christians is more important than the purity, or lack of it, in our individual actions. As a commentator on the crisis stated, what the Donatists failed to do was to choose Christian charity over truth, his way of saying that the Donatists failed to recognize the power of unconditional love to trump our fallen human condition.

    It is a story that every Christian needs to hear, no matter in which age we live. Unconditional love trumps fallen humanity, as it trumps everything, even death itself. The story of Jesus’ crucifixion and subsequent appearance to his disciples as they gathered together is testament to that truth. Too many of us harbor old grudges and ignore others. Too many of us get mad at the church (or mad at God) and stay away from the connection with others that we as humans need so much. In their own ways, such actions turn us into Donatists.

    The bishop writes that he has read “several books” (in a week!). Which ones, I wonder? I’ve read a few myself, and none of those with which I am familiar even come close to making the category confusion shown here by the Bishop of Arkansas. The Donatists did not refuse to be in communion with the rest of the church. They declared that there was no “rest of the church” with which to be in communion. The distinction is vital.

    Donatism arose over sacraments celebrated by those who were alleged to have cooperated in Diocletian’s persecution. Donatists insisted that such cooperation rendered these sacraments invalid, and that this taint of invalidity infected all but themselves, the true (donatist) church in North Africa. The contrary catholic doctrine of ex opere operato, famously championed by St Augustine and repeated in Article 26, held that the sins of the celebrant did not affect the validity of a sacrament. The Donatist controversy was therefore never a contest between truth and charity, but an argument over truth, pure and simple.

    Bishop Benfield does not say so, and I do not want to put words in his mouth, but I cannot help but suspect that behind his concern about those who absent themselves from the churches in his care lies the current unpleasantness over gay bishops, same-sex “blessings,” yadda yadda yadda. If not, then who are the “too many” who “get mad” and “stay away”? But if so, then some further comments are in order.

    Donatism was not a difference over morality—no one in Christian antiquity, Catholic or Donatist, thought that cooperating with persecuting authorities was without moral significance—but an error about validity, an error that dissenters within and without the Episcopal Church have not made. No one has argued that the episcopal orders of the consecrators of Gene Robinson were subsequently rendered null and void by Gene Robinson’s sexual habits, but that these bishops have, by their doctrine, broken communion with the rest of us. We, on the other hand, are not simply asserting that homosex is wrong—we are insisting that the claim that homosex is morally neutral is itself a falsehood, an untruth, and we will not have communion with a lie. We are not breaking fellowship with sinners (we’d all be in a lot of trouble if we did), nor are we declaring anyone’s sacraments invalid. Rather, we are refusing communion with heretics, something which St Augustine, even in his most rabid anti-donatist diatribes, never confused, never lost sight of, and would never have condemned.

    If this comment by the Bishop of Arkansas is connected with the controversy ripping apart the Anglican Communion—and I find it hard to believe that it is not—then it is of a piece with other recent utterances by North American Anglican Officialdom. The Presiding “Bishop” of the Episcopal Church is fond of citing “ancient principles,”  while Fred Hiltz, the Primate of Canada, refers to “ancient canons” and Michael Ingham, the Bishop of New Westminster, pleads “ancient traditions.”

    Having by now written on this quite a bit over the last few years, I find that part of me regrets more deeply than ever the lack of access to my blogging archives occasioned by the hacker of CaNN. It would be so easy to simply link to all the articles demonstrating that the continuous claims about “ancient traditions” or that “schism is worse than heresy” and the constant charges of “donatism” are all examples of ignorance or sophistry. But another part of me thinks, why bother? Those who make such claims or charges are either disingenuous or delusional, and mere facts or logic will not change them.

    I am reminded of a famous passage from Boswell’s Life of Johnson:

    Patriotism having become one of our topicks, Johnson suddenly uttered, in a strong determined voice, an apothegm, at which many will start: ‘Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.’ But let it be considered, that he did not mean a real and generous love of country, but that pretended patriotism which so many, in all ages and countries, have made cloak for self-interest.

    Well, if patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel, then the cloak of catholicity these bishops wear shows that catholicism is the last redoubt of the desperate.

    CaNN Blogroll Update

    December 2, 2007

    CaNN has suffered a catastrophic breakdown due to a hacker (for whose soul we must all pray, since he is currently headed for the ninth circle). Those of us who have lived, moved, and had our being via CaNN have been constructing alternate sites. So for readers of Lent & Beyond, Drell’s Descants, and the Confessing Reader, I have included links to their new (possibly temporary, possibly permanent) sites under the blogroll on the right. Visit your old friends, please, or check ’em out if you don’t know them!

    “The point of the story is that the Child in the Manger was God.”

    December 1, 2007

    Our Lord Jesus Christ was both God and Man. As you all know, the formula in which Catholic theology enshrines that notion, the polish which Catholic theology gives to that rough jewel of truth, is the formula of Hypostatic Union. We all learned to repeat those words before we had the foggiest notion what they meant; they tripped so easily off our tongues that the first word got shortened down into haispatic, and perhaps became vaguely connected in our minds with the meaningless sort of shout we used to hear on the parade ground. However, we know a little more about it now; at least I hope we do. The doctrine of the hypostatic union is that in the historical figure of Jesus of Nazareth we have to distinguish two natures, a human and a divine Nature; but that those two natures belong to a single Person, and that Person is wholly divine . . .

    And so it is with this doctrine of our Lord’s Incarnation. That he was believed from the very earliest times to be both God and Man is the only possible explanation of the language which the Church, from the very earliest times, has used about him. But it wasn’t till more than three centuries after his death that it became necessary to speculate in what sense he could be both God and Man at the same time. And that was because people began to produce explanations of the mystery which, consciously or unconsciously, were dishonest explanations. They got rid of the mystery by exaggerating the doctrine in one direction or the other; either by treating our Lord as God in a way which meant he was not really Man, or by treating him as Man in a way which meant that he was not really God . . .

    And it’s the same with this mystery of the hypostatic union. It’s all nonsense, you complain, to talk about “person” and “nature” as if they were two quite separate things; as if you could stick a nature on to a person just as you stick a postage stamp on to an envelope. That is crude, Mediaeval psychology; we know more about that sort of thing nowadays. Yes, but if you come right down to it, what do we know about that sort of thing nowadays? When you turn your thought inwards, and think about yourself, who is thinking about whom, or what is thinking about what? You are not simply thinking about your thought about yourself; because that would mean that you were thinking about your thought about your thought about your thought about yourself and so on ad infinitum. No, the term of your thought is you, the person who is thinking. And in doing so, you have already divided yourself, in a sense, into two; the intellectual nature which is thinking, and the person, somehow mysteriously connected with that intellectual nature, who is being thought about. No, we don’t really know anything about the relations between a person and a nature; we’ve come up against yet another of those gaps in our thought, where the soil of natural mystery gives room for the flower of supernatural mystery to blossom. When our Lord thought about himself, the intellectual nature which thought was human; the Person who was being thought about was not human, but divine. That is mystery, if you like; but it is mystery in clear-cut terms . . .

    You see, these people who produce ingenious explanations by way of making the Christian mysteries easier for our thought, only do it at the expense of spoiling the story. The Christian faith derives its interest, after all, from two decisive moments in our Lord’s life—Bethlehem and Calvary. Consider how poor a story you make of Bethlehem if you believe, with Nestorius, that there were two Persons in the Incarnation, the second Person of the Blessed Trinity and the person of a man Jesus Christ. In that case, the child in the manger is simply an ordinary human child who is destined, one day, to be mysteriously overshadowed by the Presence of God. But that’s not the story; the point of the story is that the Child in the Manger was God. Or consider how poor a story you make of Calvary if, with the Monophysite, you believe that there was only one nature in the Incarnate, and that nature divine. Oh, no doubt as long as our Lord had a human Body the physical sufferings of Calvary were real. But the mental sufferings, the disappointment, the disillusionment, the fear, the grief over Judas’ treachery and Peter’s denial, the offering, in Gethsemane, of the human will to the divine—all that goes, all that becomes unreal, unless you believe that our Lord had a true human Nature which could be the seat of all those emotions. Once again, that’s not the story; the story is that while he who suffered was God, he suffered with all the anguish, mental as well as physical, which belongs to the nature of Man.

    So don’t let’s think that when the Church teaches us the doctrine of the hypostatic union she is merely using long words for the sake of using long words, merely trying to confuse us. It’s not that at all; she is trying to safeguard, as accurately as human language can safeguard, the essential truth of the Incarnation; she only wants to make us realize that when she says God became Man she is not guilty of a metaphor or a piece of pulpit rhetoric. God really did become Man; was Man, and lay in the manger, was Man, and hung on the Cross, is Man, and has united with himself forever that human nature he took, humiliated on earth, scarred with the scars of earth; reigns in it, eternally, in heaven.

    Fr. Ronald Knox, “Verbum caro factum est,” from University Sermons