Anglican Comprehensiveness

This is a really difficult subject that has caused so much conflict between Anglicans and which causes people of other Churches to doubt our sincerity and attachment to the notion of objective truth. Comprehensiveness is essentially a political solution to conflict and internal instability of a nation such as happened in the Renaissance era in England. It therefore becomes a perceived solution to present-day sectarian conflict within ecclesiastical structures.

Many have argued for some kind of comprehensiveness within the Roman Catholic Church since the years following Vatican II, especially in the domain of the liturgy. Some clergy and laity remained attached to the old Latin liturgy, and others accepted the modern “happy clappy” styles and something they felt more conducive to participation rather than being an affair of clerics. In spite of liturgical differences, doctrine in the Roman Catholic Church is standard except with convinced liberals.

The different “churchmanships” in Anglicanism were more or less defined by the mid nineteenth century between the Evangelicals, the High-Church / Anglo-Catholics and the Broad Church / Liberals. Certain aspects of all of these tendencies are good for all, for example love of the Bible and personal conversion, the liturgical Mystery and the freedom to use one’s grey matter.

As time went on, these “churchmanships” divided into their conservative and liberal forms. Thus we have “affirming Catholicism” using the same kind of liturgy as run-of-the-mill Roman Catholics or liberals, the Evangelicals are mostly pentecostal or charismatic with only a minority using the old Reformation era styles of services, and differences between “central” Anglicans being quite subtle but no less real. So, instead of three “churchmanships”, we have in theory six, divided between conservatives and liberals. In reality, there are probably many more, perhaps in a continuum rather than a discrete scale.

In the old days, the unity of Anglicanism was imposed by the British Crown and the Prayer Book with the doctrinal formularies it contains. Would we want to go back to the days when priests were imprisoned for ritualism? Only Church of England people living in England are subject to uniformity laws, and even there the Prayer Book has been supplanted by a whole series of alternative rites since the late 1960’s up to the Book of Common Worship. We continuers and Anglican Communion folk in other countries are no more bound by English law than any Anglicans are bound by laws governing the Roman rite. That has an advantage and a disadvantage. The disadvantage is that there is nothing to regulate comprehensiveness.

In an ideal world, people would be free to do as they want provided that those who avail of this liberty respect the freedom of other people. This is the fine balance of tolerance which is very fragile in a regime of human sin. It is like the idea of “voluntary communism” where no one is greedy, and puts his money into the kitty so that the poor and the sick can be looked after, and resources are shared by all.

If revealed dogma is true, then it is non-negotiable, and the old adage of Saint Augustine (Hippo) comes in – In necessariis unitas, in dubiis libertas, in omnibus caritas. Roughly translated, it means unity in essentials, freedom in what can be discussed and charity in all things.

Fr David Marriott wrote a comment to this blog yesterday, and it was fascinating to read. I never knew the Reverend Dr Peter Toon, but I have read some of his writings. He was a fine man, but it is difficult to get behind his thought. Should our Church be comprehensive, or should we be all low-church with the option of using high-church trappings in some places? That seems to be how it is resumed. Is there a doctrinal and spiritual reason for the high-church way, or is it just a matter of optional non-essential extras?

Is there legitimacy in some Anglicans being truly Protestants (Calvinists, Evangelicals, call them what you will) and others being attracted to the idea of rolling back the Reformation in all but abolishing superstition and simony in popular religion or following the ideals of the Roman Catholic Counter-Reformation. We have the same thing in Roman Catholicism: some want Vatican II with the “hermeneutic of continuity”, others want Vatican II with church history starting in 1965 – and others who want to go back to the 1950’s. Can all these groups tolerate each other? Perhaps we can say that truth is above any of us, and we are all trying to get there in the ways we think are best and most appealing to us. Perhaps this idea would most reflect the Anglican way.

We thus have the idea of central Anglicanism, the Broad Church. It is an elusive concept as we all become increasingly polarised and radical in our “positions”. Latitudinarianism was another nineteenth-century concept that reacted to affirmative notions of objective truth from either the Catholic or Evangelical sides. Could this be compared with the apophatic approach of Eastern Orthodox philosophy and theology? In terms of liturgical expression, central parishes might use a “Dearmer” style English altar and vestments, but no incense or complex ceremonies. Rites are often eclectic, mixing authorised material with prayers and ceremonies from other sources. It seems to be a way of “smoothing” differences through compromise and ambiguity. We also hear the expression middle-of-the-road. Some Roman Catholics occasionally use that expression to describe themselves. Some critics will often say that what stays in the middle of the road is liable to get run over by a car! Are compromise and ambiguity the right way? Even if we do not try to “own” truth, do we still acknowledge that there is something objective outside our political and ecclesiastical agendas?

Try to please everyone, and you will please no one, as we read in Aesop’s fables. It can be a sign of weakness to bend to peer pressure, changing our intimate convictions to suit the prevailing political climate like the Vicar of Bray, pleasing everyone by saying things that each can interpret to his taste. On the other side, we are indeed called to be “all things to all men (menschen)”. The balance is on a razor edge! The broad church way can itself become narrow in its concern to show intolerance to what it perceives as the extremes of camp ritualism and pulpit-thumping bigotry.

The limits of comprehensiveness seem to be be the limits it imposes on the so-called “extreme” churchmanships. It might be more desirable to have separate ecclesial groupings tolerating each other at a non-religious level than trying to force everyone into a same mould and causing more fragmentation along unexpected lines of fracture.

When my mother died, as I mentioned here in this blog, I attended a Baptist service with my sister. It included a Lord’s Supper. My sister made a sign to me saying that I could receive communion if I wanted. I didn’t, because doing so would negate everything I believe about the Catholic priesthood. I recognised those good Baptists as sincere Christians, and I was happy to pray with them and hear God’s Word with them, but unless Baptism confers the ordained Priesthood, I couldn’t recognise their sacrament. This is the pain of separation and having to be true to one’s own beliefs.

Perhaps comprehensiveness could involve communities doing what they believe they should do, being true to themselves, but there being a basis on which all could unite – the concept of mere Christianity, without everything else becoming optional and unnecessary theatricals or trappings, or icing on the cake. Prayer and sharing the Gospel are the basis of all Christians, and few would have any major issues with that. The idea of being both a Catholic priest in one place, and Evangelical minister in another, and a broad church parson in a third place seems to tear us apart. Can I celebrate according to Sarum or the Anglican Missal and see myself as celebrating a Catholic Mass with the 1662 Communion Service (which is not one of the authorised liturgies of the ACC)? Could I do a Novus Ordo with clowns and balloons and then do something different in the next church? A priest has his intimate spirituality and is not merely a “sacrament machine” for different groups of laity with different tastes! There are limits. Maybe the ACC is “narrow” but a priest can live his way and life in stable and healthy conditions.

Another thing to consider is that things don’t mean the same thing in different historical periods. Comprehensive Anglicanism was once based on a solid notion of “mere Christianity” with belief in a revealed and true God. Now it is the liberalism that is eschewed by conservative elements in the Establishment and the Continuing Churches. What is the limit of what we include in our own communities? Women priests and bishops? The LGBT agenda? Doubts about the incarnation and the Resurrection or “reinterpretations”?How far do we have to go? Conversely, how narrow can we get before we fly up our own rear end?

We live in a very pluralistic society, and we cross paths with people who believe, don’t believe or who are seeking. Among those who believe, we have people who identify with different ideas, sensitivities and symbols. We can’t hope to mix that together. Unlike the 16th century with the conformity and anti-recusant laws, people are free to go where they want on a Sunday. We don’t have to be self-conscious and worry whether we are “open” enough to please everyone. If we are believers, we don’t have to accommodate non-believers, even if we respect them and treat them kindly. We do what we believe is the right thing, and people can choose to come to us if they feel they would be happy with us. Otherwise they’ll go somewhere else.

Some churches feel that they have to compete and adjust to the market of the moment. I would prefer to say The Lord be with you to empty pews than adjust matters of faith and conviction to a fleeting market! It is a matter of fact that most believers like popular entertainment as a form of prayer and the “charismatic” style. The charismatic churches are probably doing the best business and raking in the most money. Is that what it’s all about? I respect the charismatics and think they are sincere Christians, but I feel no obligation to become charismatic and minister to them. Like the Baptists of my sister’s community in Leeds, they deserve our kindness and we do have things to learn from them – but we don’t have to be them.

Perhaps when we become much less self-conscious and tormented, God may be allowed to do his work of healing and the ut onmes unum sint may come about at a level we least expect.

As an afterthought, I have already expressed my esteem for Archbishop Peter Robinson. I would not see eye-to-eye with him in everything, but he is a fine theologian and a man of integrity. I link to two relevant articles of his – Old High Church Tenets and Broad and Central. The real issue is the extent to which we see the Reformation as a bedrock and model of Anglicanism – or the pre-Reformation English Church  – or for that matter Counter Reformation Roman Catholicism. He and Dr Toon need to be read and studied, so that we can better understand our own aspirations.

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30 Responses to Anglican Comprehensiveness

  1. Charles says:

    Thank you Fr. Chadwick. I made a point to link this article in a plug for FACA. http://anglicanrose.wordpress.com/faca/
    It seems like FACA recently received new life?

  2. ed pacht says:

    I am quite convinced that there IS objective truth, but I am quite aware that something is not objective truth merely because I believe it to be so, in fact, one thing of which I am quite certain is that my understanding of truth is inadequate, unreliable, and (in some respects that I nave not identified) in error. I am not God, but a mere finite being whose mind does not have room for infinite truth. It is therefore inevitable that others who stand as close to truth as I do will see this truth a bit differently, as we all perceive no more than a part of truth. It really is like the blind monks describing an elephant to each other. They were all right, each having experienced a part of the reality, but they were also all wrong in their denials of what the others had found. My own impression is that “heresy” is generally found not so much in what assertions are made, but in what is denied. Christianity, even if labeled “Catholic” Christianity is not so narrow and settled as we would like to think, and all our expressions of it are, by definition, no more than finite expressions of infinite truth.

    Where is this leading? Well, I certainly do have strong perceptions of what is true, of what I should believe, and of what act this may require of me. I try to live in accord with these convictions, to believe, defend, and promote them, but I am convinced that I must do so with an attitude of humility, with the full knowledge that I don’t have the whole truth, and with an awareness that I have much to learn from others. I try to conduct my life and my relations with others on the basis that we each have valuable truth to share with the other. Here, I think, is the genius of Anglicanism. It’s an attempt to make an environment in which very different viewpoints can be respected and their adherents be seen as brethren. Are there limits to this? For sure! Defining those limits is an ongoing struggle among brethren and will never (this side of parousia) be entirely resolved, but we have to make the attempt.

    • Very insightful, Ed. The thing to remember is that truth is above our comprehension and experience of life, like Heaven itself. None of us owns truth. Perhaps it is this humility, as you say, parallel with the apophatic tradition in Orthodoxy, that makes something great and noble of Anglicanism.

      I have been reading some articles of Dr Toon. He was a brilliant man and an accomplished theologian, but one thing disappoints me. He was a conservative Evangelical and expected everyone to conform to the same Reformation theological basis, even if one had the liberty to add a few vestments and a little (but not too much) bells and smells. If I prefer to base Anglican wideness on conciliar Catholicism rather than the Reformation, this is for a much more profound reason than externals, and this does not make me or anyone else of my kind of tendency want to become Roman Catholic.

      Sorry for the use of adjectives, but otherwise no thinking is possible, and therefore no communication. So, please take adjectives as analogical and for the purpose of discussion rather than absolutes designed to divide Christians.

      • ed pacht says:

        Yes! I’d refine a bit of what you say to include the positive statements of the Reformation (but probably not its denials) under the rubric of “conciliar Catholicism”. The Reformation made explicit much that had been implicit in the thinking of Patristic Christians, and, if the fierce denials hurled at one another by Protestants and Catholics can be set aside, it will be seen that they differ primarily in emphasis, and that the truth is more nearly perceived if both emphases are respected and heeded.

        Dr. Toon, Abp. Robinson, and Fr. Hart, each in his own way, bear witness to the solid values Anglicanism received from the Reformation, but, insofar as they expect “everyone to conform to the same Reformation theological basis”, they unnecessarily exclude viewpoints unlike but (in the eternal view) not incompatible with their own.

        As for me, I’ve been a hidebound Missouri Synod Lutheran, a very dogmatic Anglo-Catholic, a more middle-of-the road Episcopalian, a Pentecostal preacher, a charismatic/Evangelical pastor, and now a lay member of ACA. There’s nothing of a positive nature in any of these that doesn’t continue to affect my thinking and behavior. I’m still everything that I’ve been, but have learned (and am still learning) to leave behind the judgmental attitude toward others to which I have been prone, and still to listen closely to those with whom I disagree. They may have much to teach me.

      • Indeed, we do well to listen. When I spent an evening with my sister’s Baptist community in England, they were wonderful when they talked of God, but when one person started ranting in terms of the Calvinistic ideology he’d stuffed his brain with, the atmosphere became less pleasant. I stopped him in his tracks by saying he was being even more unbiblical than the Roman Catholics – that there was a whole lost vision of the Fathers and the desert mystics. He saw that I had a point and understood that he was not talking with one of those RC zealot apologists. That being said, the devotion and piety of those people are edifying and profoundly moving. I won’t forget it.

        I should add that Archbishop Haverland (comment in this blog) told me about Fr Hart:

        Father Robert Hart is in North Carolina, not South – S. Benedict’s, Chapel Hill, NC. And his parish and he use the Anglican Missal. While Father Hart is much more enamored of the Articles and Tudor divines than I, he also is a firm adherent to the Affirmation of Saint Louis, seven Councils, and seven Sacraments, and understand the Articles more along the lines of Bicknell than of others we might name.

        Fr Hart seems to be a good and well educated priest. I can understand how he got so angry about the way the TAC was going from October 2007, and he was quite intemperate at times. But we have to forgive – and ourselves seek forgiveness. If his Archbishop values him as a priest, I see no reason why I should not also value his writings on the Continuum blog.

      • Michael Frost says:

        Father, Your statement–“If I prefer to base Anglican wideness on conciliar Catholicism rather than the Reformation, this is for a much more profound reason than externals, and this does not make me or anyone else of my kind of tendency want to become Roman Catholic.”–gets at the heart of the matter for an EO like myself who is oft mystified at the nuances of Anglican theology, angst, and desire. That tension between the medieval RC Church that preceeded the Elizabethan Settlement ,the Reformation that produced so many influences on Anglicanism (esp. Reformed & Lutheran thinking), and the curent state of both the RCC and the heirs of the Reformation.

        But what still drives me bonkers is the vagueness used by so many Anglicans about what it means to them personally, as in where do they stand on those things that tend to make them RC and those that tend to make them of the Reformation? This is esp. acute for those those who appear inclined toward Anglo-Catholic or High Church sensitivities. So often they come across as essentially wanting to be RC without adequately specifying why they actually are not. And sometimes they can seem more RC in today’s world than the average RC in the pew, esp. if they fully accept so many of the Reformation-era dividing concepts like purgatory, indulgences, treasury of merits/works of superereogation, mandatory auricular confession, the immaculate conception & assumption, etc. Some seem almost Old Catholic circa 1880. Others near-pre-Vatican II circa 1955. Others pre-Reformation circa 1400. Or even pre-schism circa 800. Yet each is significantly different and those differences matter. Guess I’ll likely remain as confused as always? 🙂

      • Stephen K says:

        So what I said in “Anglican Catholic Clarity” was not too objectionable! I have to say that I think Ed expresses things very intelligibly for me. We are, I think, indeed all that we have been, in organic substance and not just, perhaps, in the sense of a ‘fact’ that we have been (aka ‘avoir souffert ne passe pas’). But of course, we are also more than what we have been – we are what we are becoming. That is why I think labelling is fraught in most contexts. Luther was a late mediaeval Catholic friar until his death but he was also other things as well, and so are we all. There are thus valid senses in which, say, I am, and am not, a Catholic, or you are , or are not, an Anglican. Or Catholic. Or else it is true to say that there are times, say, at 9.00 am on Monday morning that you or I are particularly ‘Anglican’ or ‘Catholic’ or whatever, and other times when we are not. Our particular thoughts might not be either but our way of thinking can hardly be uninfluenced or immersed by a lifetime of formation or experience. Which is not far from what you are saying. Is Jesus ‘God’? It becomes meaningful and not outrageous, I think, to say that sometimes and in some ways He is and sometimes and in some ways he is not. I think the same can be said of just about everything in the faith dimension. I also understand, I believe, what Michael is saying, about the need to have some definite thoughts, or thoughts about definite things, else there may be nothing, or nothing of substance. But this may be simply the definite place where some of us find ourselves, and in itself, viewed in the overall scheme of things, as definite as it can possibly be, so nothing for anyone to complain about, so long as, when a critical moral moment presents itself we act with good will. (By the way, I think that between us all we make a motley but good-willed crew!)

    • Stephen K says:

      I’m with you, Ed.

  3. ed pacht says:

    Fr. Anrthony,
    I hope my comments about Fr. Bob Hart are not taken as overly negative. He has a brilliant theological mind and is probably the best extant exponent of old-fashioned High Church Anglicanism. I’ve learned a great deal from him. It’s just that he’s too narrowly focussed on the one viewpoint amd that sometimes has unfortunate results. I had to withdraw from the Continuum blog when it changed so as to be unwelcoming toward my views. I’ve never lost respect for Fr. Hart even so, and still wish these circumstances had not brought about a separation.

    Michael,
    What drives me bonkers is the kind of mind or environment that can’t live with a spectrum of views. I don’t regard RCs, EOs, Lutherans, or Calvinists, Pentecostals or Baptists as having a complete grasp of Christian truth, and I do see each body, if left to itself, as holding firmly to much that just isn’t so. That’s what human beings are like, and will be like until this world has, at the last, come to an end. Does that produce confusion? Well, yes it does – if it is allowed to – if those of different opinions are prepared to reject one another and cease being enriched by one another. The Anglican ideal (so very rarely seen in actual practice) is one of brethren of very different opinions bound together in a common fellowship and open to one another to the extent that differences can be recognized and discussed intelligently, lovingly, and openly, so that all can learn from each other. I consider myself an Anglo-Catholic, but my own views and practices do not really match any of the existing parties.

    • Michael Frost says:

      Ed, I live with and enjoy a very diverse spectrum of views. I mean, my three favorite Christian thinkers are John Cassian, Philip Melanchthon, and John Wesley. (I’ve recently started studying Martin Bucer and find him most fascinating. If only there were a lot more of his works in English! And similarly with Heinrich Bullinger. I tend to gravitate to irenic thinkers, primarily those who usually avoid speculations, but I can be fascinated by someone like Molina, too.)

      I’m mainly just talking about individuals who make some general statement about being a specific kind or type of Anglican, esp. Anglo-Catholic or High Church, without then giving some boundary or sense of definition or outline to what they really mean. Does it mean just the look and feel of worship? KJV, vestments, candles, incense, rood beam/screen, etc.? Or is it the theology, the parts specifically RC, like purgatory or the immaculate conception? Take yourself, “I consider myself an Anglo-Catholic, but my own views and practices do not really match any of the existing parties.” That says both a lot and nothing at all? Esp. in light of your background: “I’ve been a hidebound Missouri Synod Lutheran, a very dogmatic Anglo-Catholic, a more middle-of-the road Episcopalian, a Pentecostal preacher, a charismatic/Evangelical pastor, and now a lay member of ACA.”

      Guess I’m just saying that for me as a non-Anglican, listsening to the various kinds and types of Anglican angst is made all the more confusing when it is nearly impossible to understand the foundation from which the person stands on? Take Anglican Orders. I can’t image any Anglican really giving two rips if Rome or Constantinople accepts them–as long as they believe in their heart that they are doing their best to follow the Gospel as it has been handed down to and on to them personally. (I’m in the midst of reading Bucer’s tract on Ordination, which influenced the Anglican Ordinal (1550). He was an RC priest and monk. He put substance over form and intentional doing over just articulating words, and expected the candidate to firmly and publicly believe in a lot (see the 32 questions).)

      • You need to go easy. I understand where you’re coming from, and I spent fourteen years of my life as a traditionalist Roman Catholic. I have returned to Anglicanism but with an increasingly clear vision inspired by the generic notion of conciliar Catholicism rather than the Reformation (even if the Reformers did bring in good things like the Bible and the liturgy in the language of the people and more of an idea of personal conversion to Christ).

        But not all Anglicans have my experience, and I’m a cradle Anglican. Others have come through the Reformation and various Evangelical communities, and are discovering the great undivided Catholic tradition. Some discover it by reading theology, others by the experience of the liturgy, church art, holy men and women, you name it. I don’t think we can be hard on people who go the long way and look for God in faltering steps not knowing where to go.

        I don’t think there’s any need for confusion, just for discussing things with people, learning along the way and finding Christ in kindness and patience. You and I like reading and studying. Sometimes we just need to observe life and be thankful for small mercies.

      • ed pacht says:

        Michael. Your questions, in themselves, say a lot about our differences in thinking. I’ll quote you:
        Take yourself, “I consider myself an Anglo-Catholic, but my own views and practices do not really match any of the existing parties.” That says both a lot and nothing at all?
        Precisely. You see, I really have no desire to be evaluated on the basis of what party or school I can be numbered with. I have influences, but I have (as I believe everyone must) used and combined those influences in a unique way. Whatever label I might use really does say very little at all. I’m really not even able to categorize myself.
        Esp. in light of your background: “I’ve been a hidebound Missouri Synod Lutheran, a very dogmatic Anglo-Catholic, a more middle-of-the road Episcopalian, a Pentecostal preacher, a charismatic/Evangelical pastor, and now a lay member of ACA.”
        As I said, I am still, in many ways, all of these things, and what I still possess of all these influences will add up together to define what I actually am. Do I necessarily know how that works out? Not really. Am I always self-consistent? I am not. Why not? because I am alive. I am growing and changing, and the parts don’t always fit together well.
        In short, I really have trouble comprehending why anyone would want it otherwise.

      • Ed, please don’t be angry. I have tried to reason out this issue. We all have to grow into things and take years doing it, learning along the way. I find that someone whose experience is varied and has caused hardship will produce someone who is mature and compassionate. Souffrir passe. Avoir souffert ne passe pas. Le changement on n’aime pas ça, ça nous fait peur. Léon Bloy said that suffering is transitory and passing, but the experience of having suffered remains. We don’t like change and it frightens us. I often wish I had simply had a classical path – prep school, Eton or Winchester, whatever, Oxford, Cuddeston or Chichester, first curacy, etc., etc. But would I just be a narrow Establishment type, unable to understand the prophetic spirit?

        Michael, You’re something of an academic. Already, the Internet makes us insensitive to feelings – and we have to compensate for that by remembering that we are dealing with real people with feelings. I do think you have been rather unkind. Orthodoxy (I mean right doctrine and not a particular Church or tradition) is not something we have from birth. We discover it and grow into it. We tack to port and then to starboard, slowly making our way against the wind. Yes, a little more downhaul and cunningham, haul in the mainsail and jib and keep a steady course! We can’t all be constant from the beginning.

        Give the man a chance!

      • Michael Frost says:

        Ed, I was pleasantly surprise this past Sunday when I met the local parish’s ACA Diocesan Bishop Strawn during his annual visitation. He immediately saw the Western Rite Orthodox BOC I was carrying and commented favorably on it. I had a nice discussion with him downstairs. I was interested in hearing what he had to say about ecumenism and the American Anglican experience today. And since he is a Texan, and I’ve lived in 3 Texas cities in my life, I enjoyed listening to him. This midwesterner loves Texans!

  4. ed pacht says:

    Did I sound angry? If so, I apologize. There is no anger involved whatever, and nothing said has been taken personally. I’m puzzled as to what I said to make it appear that way. Be that as it may, I’m only attempting to portray (in admittedly feeble and clumsy words) the kind of comprehensiveness that I’ve come to see as the hallmark of Anglicanism and, to my mind, as the best approximation to the spirit of the Gospels and of Christian history as a whole.. A certain degree of dogma is essential – it’s not all up for grabs – but dogmatism is not an appropriate way of dealing with it. No human thought can be seen as final. We are finite, weak, and sinful – how could it be otherwise? Brothers, I’m loving this conversation.

    • I didn’t mean anger in the offensive way. I thought you were being “picked on”. I got a wrong impression, so it’s my turn to apologise. So, let’s continue the conversation!

      • Michael Frost says:

        Father, I’m no academic. Just an interested, educated layman. And my interest in ecumenism and comparative dogmatics & liturgics has risen astronomically over the past year as my son married a lapsed RC and my daughter is engaged to a Lutheran (LCMS), who prior to that was Dutch Reformed. Given the possibility that my daughter could become Protestant, I’ve felt the need to really and truly study the past, esp. the Reformation, in a way that was fair to my new and future family. Has really opened my eyes (esp. the Reformed tradition).

  5. Stephen K says:

    On two or three occasions, in my ‘neck of the woods’, I’ve seen eagles wing their effortless way quite close, in the immediate sky. I just think I saw another. It makes me think of images like ‘soaring spirit’ or ‘God in the heavens’ or ‘free as a bird’ etc. I think these have particular pertinence to our thoughts about this thing called ‘religion’. What’s it all for? Why, I suppose, in the end, a number of things, not in any order (at least for the purposes of my comment): an instinct to love the beautiful or the good (God); a weariness at our physical condition, our earthly chains; a desire for the ‘good life’ and a periodic sense of human unity (or humanism); a need to feel loved; a sense of our unloveability. Why do we therefore quibble or insist on particular dogmas? How can we presume to subject the goddess “Truth” to our controlling conceits or our insecurities? Surely we have to start speaking the language of ‘spiritual insights’! What is ‘Christianity’? Isn’t it, in the end, “Christlikeness”? Or, an embrace of a concept of a loving redemption? It even occurs to me, that God, being the ultimate Mystery, must be a Mystery even unto God: Ipse mysterium ipso, it might be said. And how many of us act much like we really believe in God, let alone a loving One? I like Ed’s way of saying “No human thought can be seen as final. We are finite, weak and sinful – how could it be otherwise?”

    • Michael Frost says:

      Stephen K, When you write–“Why do we therefore quibble or insist on particular dogmas? How can we presume to subject the goddess “Truth” to our controlling conceits or our insecurities? Surely we have to start speaking the language of ‘spiritual insights’!”–the soaring rhetoric (pun intended, eagles) can obfuscate the reality of the impact of ideas. Keep in mind the rule of prayer is the rule of belief. These tend to hit home in both dogma and lived faith.

      Dogmatically, do we “quibble” over Christology when we oppose Unitarians? Arians? Nestorians? Monophysites? Monothelites? I suspect we can go into a Unitarian “Church” and readily experience a really different “Christ”, one that is alien to us and foreign to our thoughts on His role in salvation? Now maybe it would be much harder to in regard to the Nestorian East or non-Chalcedonian Copts, but I suspect over time we’ might notice things that seemed wrong. And that would cause us to see the need for a proper Christology?

      And when it comes to living out our Christen faith on a daily basis, I think we’ve all seen the disasterous wreakage that comes from “churches” saying that an evil like abortion is morally acceptable. Or that homosexuality and homosexual marriage are acceptable lifestyle choices. Or that WO is something we must do in order to be culturally relevant and respectful of women. With Satan a prowling lion, to teach and preach error as goodness and truth is to deceive and destroy the life of the Christian?

      But I would agree with you if I filtered the comment thru the lens of someone like Philip Melanchthon, Martin Bucer, or John Wesley, who had both a high regard for irenic discussions with their fellow Christians over very difficult, mystical topics like the “real” presence in the eucharist, apostolic succession, predestination/election, and justification, and lived lives dedicated to Christ and their fellow man. But they knew and accepted those critically important dogmas (like the Trinity, Incarnation, death & resurrection & Ascension of Christ, etc.), because otherwise they wouldn’t be following, teaching, or preaching the Gospel?

      While I’m sure we’re orthodox in regard to essential Christian concepts of faith and life, we know so many others who speak this way are not. And they speak this way in order to move us away from revealed Truth into error?.

      • Stephen K says:

        Thank you, Michael, for your comments which demonstrate the dialectical nature of ‘truth-speak’. Perhaps my use of the term ‘quibble’ gives insufficient recognition to the seriousness with which theological concepts are scrutinised and discussed and to the ethical or psychological implications of some of them. I had, principally, in mind, not so much an objection to one’s embrace of a concept as a dogma or truth-to-be-proclaimed, but rather to the elevating of any of them to critically salvific status, on principle. In other words, I am not suggesting that Christian faith does not hold Trinity and Incarnation and the redemptive, resurrectional economy of Easter as scriptural and as core belief, but that these things (and many other derivatives) – or, more correctly, one’s embrace of them – is tarnished or diminished if they become the reason for the fostering of the fruits of exclusion and division: suspicion, mistrust, condemnation, hatred, prejudice etc. And that these are the fruits of the way these ideas have been approached is evident.

        My sense is that there is something very radically counter-intuitive at the heart of the challenge Jesus put to his listeners and puts to each of us, and that it involves a seventy-times-seven forgiveness model and a kind of love that I dare to say most of us don’t even fully understand let alone practice. And, in thinking this, I sense that the central value of core Christian dogmas lies not in their degree of truth, but in their subjective power to move us to the implications on the moral plane. For this to happen we need to reflect on them, seriously, and, so theology tells us, the grace (power and love) of the loving God. This was what I had in mind when I said we needed to see them in terms of “insights” rather than “dogmas” in the polemic sense often applied.

        I am conscious that there is a certain circularity or contradiction or difficulty involved in trying to talk about faith as truth and subjective all at the same time; that is why I think Ed is saying something important I faintly grasp when he speak about the way that much theological controversy pivots on emphasis and degrees of truth and that truth is better approached with “both/and” thinking than with “either/or” thinking.

        I am currently reading William Barclay’s “The Mind of Jesus”, alongside the Gospels. It’s stimulating new ideas (new ways of articulating things for me, at any rate). I’ve read John Robinson’s “Honest to God” too. I know it is criticised, but it was stimulating too. I draw inspiration from Thomas Merton, and Eberhard Arnold. And Augustine’s “Confessions” is open at the moment (again!) too. They’re all challenging and not all a perfect fit but in other ways they’re biting the same apple from all sides and I’m getting juice. From time to time, I’ll open my copy of the Summa and see if apologetes are making a hash of him or what I think about what he says. And from another direction, I’m reading “The Science of Self Realisation” by Bhaktivedanta Prabhupada. It’s not an apple, but it’s in a fruit-bowl, and fruit is good for you.

        And, very frequently, I pick up insights (not dogmas) from Michael, Ed, Anthony et al.
        Though I may be beyond the Pale, and hasten to disavow any intentional pretension to faith in the full sense or virtue, I hope these comments represent a useful synthesis/ fruitful new thesis for our solar-orbital conversation.

      • Michael Frost says:

        Stephen K, Have you ever read Willam Law, the 18th century Anglican Non-juor of serious devotional, almost mystical, inclination? Or some of John Wesley’s more spiritual, devotional works? Or Lutheran pietists like Spener? Or Cassian’s Conferences tied to the foundation of early western monasticism? I’m just not a huge fan of 20th century and modern writers. Even the “best” or “better” ones like C.S. Lewis or D. Bonhoeffer. Guess I like to rely on the “classics” and go straight to the original sources of various streams of thought.

        As regards “radical” Christianity, two thoughts. First, that has me thinking today’s Amish, Quakers, Shakers, Moravians, etc. They are out there. But they tend to really cut themselves off from the world. Second, what is the saying, It isn’t that Christianity has been tried and found wanting, but that it hasn’t ever been tried at all?

      • Stephen K says:

        Thank you for those references, Michael. (I apologise for not responding sooner.) No, I must say I haven’t read them, but I will seek them out; William Law sounds particularly interesting. My post-university reading has rather followed the serendipitous path of second-hand bookshop discoveries, rather than any systematic rule!

        I can’t help but feel something of admiration for the groups you mention, even though, in themselves, they each, too, represent just a sliver of the Christian prism glass. The official Shakers are down to their last 3 or 4 residents, I understand, and having read their story, I feel something sad about the end of their model even while understanding why it has come about. And so on. As you point out, many of these groups cut themselves off from the “world” and it seems clear from my reading of the Gospels and Paul that Jesus did not mean this to be the norm: something about proclaiming the good news is central!

        And I do recognise the saying: wasn’t that Chesterton? I think he was saying something very salutary. On Passion Sunday this year, my daughter and I attended a wonderful sung Benediction and Evensong at an Anglo-Catholic parish quite by serendipity. The church was filled and the hymns were moving; it was spiritually enchanting as well as sobering. I felt it was a ‘gift’, but not something I want or feel I am supposed to fight over. That’s where I generally tend to come from these days.

        Now, let me chase up those works you mentioned! Many thanks.

    • ed pacht says:

      I’ll go a long way with that, Stephen. There is far too much quibbling, BUT one cannot throw aside the concept of dogma either. Christianity is not a philosophy invented by men, but at its root is the self-revelation of God to mankind. The Scriptures, the Sacraments, the Church are not mere human inventions, but gifts of God. The creeds and the councils distilled much of that revelation into a minimum list of simple dogmas that are to be believed if one is to claim to be authentically Christian. Ultimately these are not examples of mere human thought, but rather of divine revelation. That said, however, who can claim that his understanding of the revelation is the only way it can be understood? Who can claim to have found all the truth that is contained in it? Who can declare with confidence that he has not seriously misunderstood? We need each other if we are to come anywhere near truth. We need tradition and the consensus that it is building, and we need to realize that this consensus is still under construction. We need the voices of other lovers of Christ, even when we feel they’ve got a lot of it terribly wrong. We even need the voice of unbelievers and those of other religions, for God’s revelation, though given primarily to His own people, is not owned by them, but is also encountered by others.

      We are as free as those eagles, but not more free than they. Eagles fly in perfect obedience to the laws of physics. They live in obedience to the laws of biology. Religion is indeed a free flight toward God, but this flight is impossible without “dogma” as he has revealed it.

      • ed pacht says:

        Michael,
        you were posting your comment while I was constructing mine. Let me just say that I really like what you said, and that it adds substance to what I was thinking

      • Michael Frost says:

        ed, The analogy to birds is fascinating. Hawks, doves, and cranes are birds. So are kiwi and ostriches? Thinking lastest scientific research indicates they evolved from dinosaurs? For every eagle or hawk, isn’t there also a vulture and a crow/raven? In the latter category, I’m seeing people like…ECUSA PB KJS and Bishop Pike? 😉

      • ed pacht says:

        Vultures? Repulsive birds, but beautiful as they fly, and, disgusting as their activities may be, they are an integral part of Creation. Garbage collectors are essential. The comparison with Pile & Schori et al. brings up some intriguing thoughts. Might even destructive false teachers have a place in God’s program? I’m not sure where to go with such thoughts, but I think of several instances in Scripture, notably Pharaoh, and, preeminently, Judas, who, though utterly reprehensible, were essential to the unfolding of the divine economy. What does anyone else think?

      • ed pacht says:

        mistyped: “Pike” not “Pile”

      • Michael Frost says:

        ed, Pike and Pile? That must be a Freudian slip? Not that it matters much? Like Spong and Sponge? 😉

        As for the rest, now you’re getting real heavy into difficult terrain. Places where Augustine engaged Pelagius and Gaul’s Cassian/Vincent/Faustus responded back. Erasmus battled Luther. Calvin jousted with Melancthon. Arminius versus Dordt’s Reformed Divines. Wesley discoursing with Whitefield. Brilliant minds disagreeing…

      • ed pacht says:

        I’m known for inflicting atrocious puns upon my friends, but this one was involuntary.

        Minds that do not disagree on important matters are probably not brilliant. At any rate, I do agree — that metaphor does carry us into thorny places.

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