Thursday, November 17, 2011

It is not about the Covenant

Tobias Haller might have a claim to be the most learned anti-Covenanter in TEC (if he is not, then I haven't come across the writings of the better claimant)! He has published a major talk (lecture?) given in the Diocese of Albany, entitled. Savi Hensman, writing at Ekklesia, as far as I can tell not a member of TEC, so this is not about her claims v. Tobias', tackles the Covenant from a different angle, pointing to the possibility of a different Covenant which would be 'clearer' and 'less divisive.'

I commend both their offerings for consideration. I find each unpersuasive.

Savi Hensman does make a good point that in the middle of a situation of division, diversity and difference, a new form of the Covenant which is more agreeable would be good. But she does not persuade me that what she cites is that new form. It would be most agreeable to those who do not want the Covenant to have any teeth. Some of us do want a Covenant with teeth, though not to devour people with, but to engage with one another in a manner of life which effects change when change is required.

Tobias' Haller offers various excurses which are tempting to digress upon. I shall resist that temptation, not least because if I do not, Tobias will undoubtedly come to comment and to point out that I have not focused on his main fare. Catholicity and Covenant succumbs. Tobias comments! (For what it is worth, my sympathies are with the former, and if the latter reads this, Yes, I have started reviewing your book and the project is currently in abeyance).

I think Tobias' core idea in developing his thesis that the Covenant is not necessary is this sentence (H/T Titus One Nine),

"In short, the process of organic development is afoot, it is not going to stop, and reception is or isn’t happening as I speak."

Anglicanism, in other words, is this Christian phenomenon which evolves ("organic development"). Nothing can stop the evolution, nothing ought to constrain the evolution. Some receive the gradual changes as they happen, some do not. But eventually all fall in line with the developmental line the Communion takes. In Covenantal terms, this development neither requires the Covenant nor needs constraint by the Covenant.

But right at the heart of the sentence, as Ad Orientem notes in comment at T19, is a sleight of theological hand: 'organic development' can mean two things. For Tobias it means the development of the Anglican Communion in any and every possible way, even in contradictory ways. For others, perhaps especially those with a keen eye on catholicity within our Anglican tradition, it means development of the Anglican Communion in a manner which is coherent and contiguous with what has gone before. If the former view of organic development is accepted then no Covenant is needed and none ought to be applied to Anglican life. If the latter view is held to, then a Covenant is needed and ought to be applied to our life, precisely to guide us as to what is organic development and what is not.

In the end much as I am tempted by Tobias' excurses (which are connected to his overall theme of Anglican Disunion), and by the steps in his exposition that I disagree with, I suggest the most important thing is not to deconstruct his argument and adjunct arguments, but to ask what kind of Anglicanism do we Anglicans want? What Tobias wants is incompatible with the Covenant. What I want is compatible with the Covenant. For Tobias the Covenant is quite scary but not, I suggest, because it might punish this church or discipline that, but because it represents a quite different vision for global Anglicanism. For me it is quite scary not having a Covenant! Not, I hasten to add, because this church might go unpunished or that one might escape discipline. No. Scary because it would mean a different vision for global Anglicanism was prevailing, a vision in which bit by bit 'global Anglicanism' loses its significance. And with each bit, for catholic Anglicans the temptation must grow to belong to Rome or Constantinople. Or the torture must increase for those who believe in Anglicanism as an alternative to the misconceptions of those other branches.

It is not about the Covenant, in the end. The great issue beyond all issues for Anglicans with a world vision is what kind of Anglican world do we want.


Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Peter, thanks for your reflection. I will simply note that if you (and ad Orientem) limit "organic" to "consistent with what has gone before" then the Covenant itself is not an example of organic development, since it posits a very significant change in how we work within the Communion. Or if it doesn't, why is is so important?

In fact, many devlopments in the church are INconsistent with what has gone before (though sometimes argued to be consistent with an earlier practice, skipping a beat, so to speak). But as in nature change often occurs in sharp jumps and mutations after long periods of stasis (see "puncutated equilibrium"). No one, I think, would argue that nature is itself "inorganic." I list, in my talk, several of the examples of such radical change -- not least the decision to include Gentiles into the Chosen People of God. This was an innovation accepted by some, rejected my others, and only over time did the anti-Gentile portion of the church effectively cease to function.

The Covenant seeks to place an inorganic monitoring system in place, to quash the organic working-out of the process of reception: it seeks to restrain local change at the local level, or seal it off by disconnecting relationship with those who persist in practicing the change. If that is an inaccurate reading of the Covenant, I'd appreciate your take on it.

Peter Carrell said...

HI Tobias,
Your comment highlights a lack of clarity in my offering re 'organic development'. I am concerned with theology. The organic development of our theology is the core of being an Anglican Communion, not the arrangements re Instruments, Covenants, committees etc. You are comfortable with organic development of our theology including straight contradiction (marriage for male and female v. marriage unconfined by gender). I think that it is an inconsistent development of theology with our past in tradition, reason and, above all, Scripture. (I acknowledge that you have a well-structured set of supporting arguments for your specific conclusion re marriage. I do not intend to argue against that set here).

There is no problem with inconsistency about conciliar arrangements from one generation to another for governing the life of the Anglican Communion (of which the Covenant is one arrangement) as conciliar arrangements for the Christian church have chopped and changed over the centuries, and in Scripture itself there is no one set structure for governance.

There is a very real problem about inconsistency in theology. Hooker himself sought to present Anglican theology in the context of the Elizabethan Settlement [a novelty re governance] as an organic development of theology through the ages. Rightly you invoke Hooker as you seek to advance your case that your theological vision is a contribution to organic development. The question before us is whether your case is a good one or not.

Two brief observations: the inclusion of the Gentiles theologically was supported with specific reference to what had gone before, that is, the Old Testament. The case being argued was that it was consistent with the theology of the past. It looked like a novelty but on closer examination it was not.

The Coveant does not stymie organic development. Local initiatives and innovations will continue under the Covenant. What the Covenant provides for is a means of constraining those developments which are "inorganic". Positively, the Covenant provides a means for developments to be part of the organic development of Communion life: a coherent theology without inconsistencies would be presided over by the Covenant. There is nothing to fear for those who seek the truth!

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Thank you, Peter. That is much clearer. I still think your distinction between "organic" and "inorganic" is a bit arbitrary. To take the Gentile inclusion matter more closely -- while there were some biblical texts that allowed for it, the condition of circumcision (for instance, to share the Passover, which is the truest sign of inclusion) presented an obstacle in some minds, since the text requiring it was so clear. Thus some ignored the decision of the Apostolic Council (and fought with Paul over the issue), and this division of opinion in the early church only faded as the circumcision party declined out of noticeable existence. But _their_ argument would be that the church had gone too far.

I would also argue that the issue of same-sex marriage is not at the heart of the gospel, and only partially "theological" -- unlike some of the issues over which the church has come to new positions -- sometimes radically different from preceding positions -- and sometimes with striking discontinuities. Teaching on the nature of the Eucharist, for example, has swung widely.

I also have to say that I appreciate your title, since some have suggested my talk was about the Covenant -- which it really wasn't. I was attempting to outline some of the basic "notes" of Anglicanism as a Way within the Christian church. I believe it is these "notes" that distinguish us, rather than major Christological doctrines, which I think we share in common with bulk of Christendom. It is in matters of discipline that I think we differ most, and I follow the Anglican Divines who saw marriage as "an estate allowed" and primarily a matter of discipline rather than dogma.

Thanks again, and God bless you.

Father Ron Smith said...

As different from you, Peter; I do find the arguments of both Tobias Stanislaus Haller in TEC, and Savi Henseman in the Church of England, to be very convincing. But then, you and I do see things from a different perspective. You from an entrenched 39 Articles view, and me from an inclusive, progressive view - open to what the Holy spirit might be saying to the Church - in the light of the need for justice.

Suem said...

How many diocese and provinces have actually voted in support of the Covenant, so far, Peter? I have not really been keeping an eye on the ball as much as I should with this one, but I sense that support has been patchy. I am increasingly starting to think that we will get a Covenant but I am starting to doubt more and more whether it will have any effect at all on our Communion - for a start, I don't think enough will have voted for it to give it the mandate it will require. I think it may cause more division, if it is not entirely ignored. I do think we will adopt the Covenant (if it is at all possible) because the slight to the ABC if it is abandoned would be too great. Also - where would we go after the Covenant failed? It can't afford to "fail". That doesn't mean, however, that it will "suceed." TEC will follow the path it has embarked upon, ACNA will also do its own thing. Who knows what we will end up with or what the Communion will have developed into a few decades time, but it will do it whether the Covenant is there or not. If that isn't "organic", I don't know what is!

Father Ron Smith said...

Suem, I do agree with your prophetic stance. Whatever comes of the Covenant, I believe God's Church will not fail. It may be that each Province will continue in the Faith - but is that particular following of Jesus Christ that is the discerned will of God in situ.

ACNA, in any event, is no longer part of the Anglican Communion - having withdrawn from TEC, which is still a part - at the moment. What is to come, maybe only God knows.

However, I truly believe that, where the Presence of Jesus is celebrated 'in the midst', in the Eucharist, and in outreach to the marginalised, He will be there.

Shawn said...

I have never understood any kind of theology which claims that the Holy Spirit can contradict Scripture.

Does the "inclusive-progressive" God have a split personality?

I agree that the Spirit is always talking to the Church, and to individual Christians. But the Spirit is also He who inspired all of Scripture, including all the inconveniant exclusive parts.

If some are hearing a different spirit, I might suggest that it is not the Spirit of God, but the spirit of the world, the spirit of the age, the very one Jesus told us not to listen to.

The Church must be IN the world not OF the world.

Bryden Black said...

1. In commenting upon this important offering from Tobias Haller, I shall focus upon one major inconsistent theme that needs calling out. For I sense it colours most of TH’s argument; it finally occurs explicitly in his last paragraph most graphically.

Anyone who has been trying to follow the events of the Anglican Communion over the past few years has probably encountered TEC’s document from 2007 year entitled, Communion Matters, part two of which speaks of “Our special Charism as Anglican Christians”, namely, “the via media, the middle way between polarities, as a faithful theological method”. The document tries to base their idea in history, referencing - of course! - the likes of Richard Hooker (intriguingly citing only TEC’s own collect for his feast day, which is itself already their own constructed interpretation!). Yet how does TEC actually use the notion of a via media? And what resemblance does their use have to the original concept?

The answer: reading carefully all the references throughout the document as a whole to diversity and difference, the tag “Via Media” has taken up a life of its own in the hands of TEC, way beyond that of 16th or 17th C England. Historically, in the hands of a Richard Hooker, the Middle Way of the Church of England was that between Rome and Geneva. In the summary of Bp Thomas Ken: “I die in the Holy, Catholic and Apostolick Faith, professed by the whole Church before disunion of East and West. More particularly I dye in the Communion of the Church of England as it stands distinguished from all Papall and Puritan Innovations, and as it adheres to the doctrine of the Cross.” Nice use of the word “innovations”, note, given our present ‘dilemmas’!

In other words, what constitutes the Anglican Charism is NOT some speculative ‘middle path’ between a host of “polarities”, between Lenin and the Tsar, between Mao and Chiang Kai-shek (and I deliberately start with the political spectrum), nor between J-J Rousseau and E Burke, nor between Hindu monism and European Deism, nor between Zen atheism and Christian Trinitarianism, nor between even J Gresham Machen and Walter Rauschenbusch (to land now on American soil specially). While there may be a case for trying to walk between the likes of Jim Packer and James Barr (both contemporary Anglicans) on the nature of Revelation and the significance of Scripture in relation to revelation, what becomes most problematic is when our hermeneutical paradigms for ‘reading’ Scripture become simply incommensurate.

One is driven by what I will term a “critically realist” view of reality (cf. the work of Tom Wright & Alister McGrath at this point) and the other is driven by a form of cultural experience that is radically self-expressionist, even solipsistic. In the words of Karl Barth, we are confronted with a form of so-called ‘theology’ which “thinks it can say ‘God’ by saying ‘man’ [sic] in the loudest and most forceful tones” (cf. CD II.1, pp. 269-70). We are all the way back to Feuerbach’s thesis that actually religion is only an anthropological projection: so that all that the Bible contains are human experiences of ‘religious’ phenomena - which in the final analysis do not land objectively anywhere; they are not paradigmatically revelatory - even as they “accommodate” the divine to the human sphere (so Calvin)! - so that there is no concrete specification of the Creator of the world nor definitive communication from this Creator to humanity. It’s ever only the case that we are confronted by ‘Holy Mystery’, and everything consists of our ‘symbols’ of this apparent ‘encounter’.

Bryden Black said...

2. All in all, one questions profoundly whether the notion of “Via Media” can perform what it was intended to do in the 16/17th C now in our 21st C world of ribald pluralism.

In other words, one simply may not use nowadays, as does TEC and now I suggest Tobias, in trying to summarise our supposed Anglican ethos, such words as “comprehensiveness” and/or “via media” without careful and discerning analysis - and notably via the areas of systematic theology and philosophy of religion - of the historical context of both the origins of such notions and the nature of what we are seeking to apply it to today. Frankly, it smacks only of ideological one-upmanship, of some seeking to lay claim to the Anglican franchise at others’ expense, by manipulating the core ideas of historical Anglicanism in favour of a very different religion.

For such has been the legacy of the Enlightenment’s autonomous human reason and now our “secular age” (cf. notably Charles Taylor, A Secular Age, Harvard 2007) that we today are quite simply dealing with a very different animal to Hooker’s or Bp Ken’s ‘religion’. To quote Taylor for a moment. “The shift in background”, resulting in the “conditions of belief and unbelief” in our day (indeed, in such a smorgasbord of sundry beliefs altogether) which are just so radically “novel” historically (no society’s ‘plausibility structures’ have ever functioned this way before), means we need very different language and tools of analysis to appraise “the fruit of new inventions, newly constructed self-understandings and related practices”. We are just unable to claim catch-phrases of old as if that ‘sorted’ the ‘problem’, providing for “le sens du sens” (Luc Ferry in Taylor: the meaning of meaning - the ultimate significance)! Today’s so-called “comprehensiveness” and its twin “via media” have little or nothing to do with Hooker or Ken, and everything to do with contemporary secularism’s “available believable” (Ricoeur), the root paradigm of pluralism, where even inconsistent and/or contradictory elements are deemed able to ‘live under one tent’.

Father Ron Smith said...

Whew! What an outbusrt!! Picking just one little bit of the whole:

"...a so-called theology which thinks it can say 'God' by saying 'man'" BB.

the Incarnation helps us to really understand that "God became human' in Jesus Christ, called both 'son of man' and Son of God. THIS is the real MYSTERY - not whether the Scriptures are 'true', but how they inform us of the 'Word-made-flesh'. All other theological speculation
is merely human speculation.

Hermeneutics is an honourable and necessary, ongoing discipline. The Word of God is Alive and Active. If not, it may have died long ago. The Word did not remain in The Book. However, with the application of human reason and an openness to further revelation, the Scriptures can 'come alive' and speak to us, today. Let's not worship the Book, but rather the Person of Jesus.

I recommend a look at the sermon preached by Archbishop Rowan Williams at the Commemoration of the 500th Anniversary of the KJV.

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Shawn, this is what some said to Jesus when they perceived him to be contradicting Scripture. It is also what the opponents of Paul said when they perceived him to be contradicting Scripture. And all of that is in the Scripture. One need not see "development" as contradiction, but as a change in circumstance. I devote a chapter to this in my book, providing biblical evidence that God "changes his mind" and forbids some things in some times that he allows later. Jesus committed that power to the church -- the power to seal and unseal, and himself amended or altered previous divine commands. To suggest, as you seem to, that Christ gave that power but intended it never be used is one point of view, but I don't think it the only defensible position.

Suem, that really is precisely what I mean by an organic process. The Covenant seems to me to be an effort to "manage" disagreement, but doesn't seem to really add much to the management tools. It shifts some responsibilities to the Standing Committee -- but it will still be up to the individual provinces to act as they choose in any implementation. My major opposition to the Covenant is based on its failure to accomplish much. I'd rather we adopt a real common code of canon law, or at least think in that direction.

Bryden, I think your comments are really much more a response to that other document on the via media rather than to my talk. But FWIW, I think TEC's use of via media is consistent with that of the Elizabethan and Caroline eras -- it is just that the controversies have changed. I maintain that TEC has held fast to the "Catholick Faith" -- individual eccentrics being of no more import to us than those in Rome are to Rome! I do not at all accept your characterizations of a kind of humanism run rampant. When I do systematic theology it is in the main stream. The problem that arises, as I tried to make clear in my talk, is that people attempt to raise issues of pastoral theology to the level of dogmatic theology. This was the problem at the Reformation, where matters of discipline (clergy marriage, vernacular liturgy, common cup) became ditches literally to die in. Today we have different ditches, and my argument is that of the Anglican Divines: let us look carefully at how these issues actually do relate, or not, to dogmatic points.

Mark Baddeley said...

After reflecting on Tobias' argument here, I'm not sure if his view can have a view of an 'inauthentic' Anglican development. Given that radical discontinuity (e.g. mutation) is something that occurs in nature, and that's the analogy, I would have thought almost anything would be genuinely Anglican.

Sydney's promotion of lay administration is therefore Anglican, on this view, just as much so as people continuing to restrict that activity to ordained clergy.

Those baptised, communicant members of the Church of England who left it to become Presbyterians, Baptists, even Plymouth Brethren, are also organic Anglican developments. They were Anglicans when they formed these new bodies, or came to the convictions that led to the formation of these new bodies, and while they are radically discontinuous developments from what happened before, that is the nature of mutations. In those cases, a new species was created, but it too should be considered 'Anglican'.

Even the covenant is genuinely Anglican, because it is a change being proposed by Anglicans.

This is feeling almost reductio ad adsurdum, but I'm not trying to do that here - it seems to be a feature of Tobias' argument.

What development, if any, would be unauthentic Anglican?

Peter Carrell said...

I look forward to Tobias' response to your excellent point/question, Mark!

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Mark, I'll take up Peter's invitation to respond to what is really an excellent question.

I think the answer is actually implicit in my talk, and that is the complement to innovation, which is reception. While to some degree your reductio is true ("Anglicanism is whatever Anglicans do..." if I can paraphrase) on the innovation side, that definition won't work on the reception side. The very fact that the Presbyterian, Methodist and Congregationalist bodies formed new ecclesial structures, and that their innovations were not accepted by the bodies from which they stemmed, is the indication that they ceased being "Anglican" --- either in their own self-understanding or the understanding of the other Anglicans --- at some point.

What I'm arguing then is that this is a process. It may be difficult in times of transition to say, "This is Anglican" or "This isn't." Reception will be crucial in determining what eventually is considered to be Anglican by Anglicans.

As I also point out in my talk, part of the bulwark identification of Anglicanism lies in the Chicago Lambeth Quadrilateral. (Note this is an important part of my argument, and I don't think a church that forsakes these principles is "Anglican" any more: that would be an "unAnglican" departure.) Thus those churches that foresook the Episcopate (the presbyterians) as a matter of principle were parting from the Anglican stream in a deliberate way. The Methodists were a bit less adamant, and their relationship to historic Anglicanism is close enough that an eventual rapprochement may be possible.

Whether lay presidency arises to a repudiation of the Eucharist or not will be the key in this case. The CLQ doesn't exactly specify the minister of the rite, and focuses more on the elements and the rite itself. The great Patristic scholar Richard Norris, when asked, "what do you call a lay person authorized to preside at the eucharist?" responded "A priest!" Frankly, I don't think lay presidency will never catch on beyond perhaps occasional and parochial use. Not being in a circumstance where it is even being considered I can't say too much about how likely a wide positive reception is likely, but I doubt it. My point is that if it were to catch on, and be widely adopted, then like all the other innovations to which Anglicanism gave rise, it will be seen as "Anglican." As with "adiaphora" it is a concept almost impossible to pin down in the midst of the time of innovation and reception. Only a retrospective and historical regard will be able to limn out the pattern by which some things come to be part of the tradition, while others do not.

What is "Anglican" is the openness to that process. That was the point of my talk. Anglicanism does not say things must always and everywhere be the same. It is that quality, not any of the particular changes in and of themselves, that is "Anglican." Hope this clarifies.

Suem said...

I am not keen on the idea that we proclaim that some beliefs, attitudes are practices are "unauthentically Anglican." There are lots of strands of Anglicanism that I don't personally believe, for example some of the very Anglo Catholic perspectives or the more Calvinist theologies. However, I don't think those who hold to those beliefs and traditions are "unanglican" because Anglicanism is a very broad church. Didn't Elizabeth 1 (a very Anglican monarch) say she had no desire to make "windows into mens' souls" - that seems to me one of the cornerstones of Anglicanism. I am not sure what could be truly defined as "unanglican" to tell you the truth - except to try to intolerantly impose a very narrow mindset upon all, because Anglicanism was to an extent born out of a desire to allow those with very different perspectives to at least live together...

Father Ron Smith said...

I think that Tobias has made a very important distinction between change for the sake of change (un-Anglican), and change for a perceived need for revision of unjust policies and/or structures. The European Reformation came about precisely because of these.

However, one cannot just change for the 'sake of change', and eventual 'reception' is a crucial part of the process - maybe not immediately (as with the Ordination of women) - but eventually - as has happened in that process.

I think that Sydney's understanding of the catholic and apostolic and individual 'calling' to priesthood is lacking; in their attempts to secure Lay Presidency at the Eucharist. The ordained priesthood is an integral part of the Sacred Tradition of the Church, Catholic and Apostolic (not adiaphora) - in which the Anglican Tradition claims a place.

The Covenant may be seen to be a change made only to down-grade Christians who happen to be LGBT (or their supporters) - partly on a matter that has been declared, by the Saint Michael's Report, from the Anglican Church of Canada, to be adiaphora. Granted, that stance has yet to be 'received' by the whole Communion - but I believe that day may not be too far distant.

Peter Carrell said...

Hello All,
Reception is a concept worth pursuing. If we look at global reception to innovation in the Anglican Communion in respect of homosexuality we are looking at a Communion which (1) did not receive innovations in 1998, (2) did not offer a means in 2008 of receiving anything (i.e. chose to 'indaba'), (3) is offering the Covenant as a means of testing innovations of more than local importance, but (4) may be shying away from the Covenant.

Thoughts on:

A. if the Communion could be said not to receive innovations regarding homosexuality would those promoting them desist?

B. What would be a means acceptable to the Communion to receive innovations which is different from the historic path through the Instruments and/or via the Covenant?


Bryden Black said...

Thank you Tobias for your engagement with (some of) my argument. However, perhaps you read my piece a bit too fast. While I do engage with TEC generally (via admittedly Communion Matters - but also typically to a reply your own PB gave me when she was here that used a similar ‘logic’), I am seeking to address as well your own third ‘leg’ of “variety” head on. Hence my use also of “comprehensive” as well as “via media” as twin notions.

For I then see your basing much of your own address on “very different cultures” as echoing not only your third ‘leg’ but also your second, “provinciality” - both of which I then try to render into a ‘dogmatic frame’ along the very lines I sense you are suggesting in your last line of comment. But then how might we - any Christian - ‘read’ cultures? Just so my last “polarity’ echoing the “critical realist” versus Feuerbach debate - which seems to me to be absolutely basic to our overall AC debates: the issue indeed behind the issues very much! For “a rampant humanism” is a great diagnosis ...! (with apologies to Ron for not quite getting the Barth reference ...)

For then, finally, it is exactly when we seek to address “rites and ceremonies” etc. that such a cultural ‘reading’ becomes critical. I for one would wish to claim an emphatic dogmatic component when we come to present-day discussions surrounding “marriage”. Not because I like my trench and wish to pound yours ...! Rather, ‘marriage’ (pace The St Michael Report from Canada) is not only a theological matter - as Canada correctly deduces - but touches crucially “core doctrine” via Imago Dei and Trinitarian features.

Hence my conclusion: we may not reduce our present issues to mere expressions of “variety” and/or “provinciality” - seeking thereby to ‘tolerate’ them. Instead, they engage directly facets of the Faith in which we must “abide” and which tolerate no room for ‘development’ (2 Jn 9!). In other words, before which we must humbly bow in due acknowledgement - together/comprehensively (Phil 2:1-13).

Shawn said...


"Let's not worship the Book, but rather the Person of Jesus."

I don't worship the book, neither do any other Evangelicals. Thats an unfair accusation.

BUT, the Person of Jesus, what he said and dead, is revealed to us in Scripture. Therefore any attempt to make some kind of seperation between the authority of Scripture and the authority of Jesus is inherently contradictory. The Bible is the Word of God. The words of Scripture, all of them ARE the words of Jesus.


"One need not see "development" as contradiction, but as a change in circumstance. I devote a chapter to this in my book, providing biblical evidence that God "changes his mind" and forbids some things in some times that he allows later."

As a Reformed Christian I cannot agree that God ever changes His mind, however I do agree that there is development within Scripture, because God has dealt with us in different ways according to the needs of the time. The obvious example is that Christians are not bound by the dietary laws, nor do we have to make sacrifices in the Temple.

Nor would I say that our understanding of Scripture never changes. Being Reformed means that I believe that the Church in the late middle ages got its understanding of Scripture badly wrong, hence the need for the Reformation.

That said we must be very careful here, and in fact the mistake of the late medieval Church is relevant to this issue. The Church under Rome had evoled a theology in which extra-Biblical doctrines could be invented in the name of "development". Tradition, rightly understood, is the Rule of Faith contained in the creeds which summarised what Scripture taught. But by the middle ages Tradition had come to be seperated from Scripture.

This is akin to what has happened in the Liberal wing of the mainline Churches. The teaching and authority of Scripture has been compromised by a theology which claims a seperate revelation from that of Scripture, which as I have said, looks suspiciously like little more than the spirit of the age.

If we are to be followers of the Person of Jesus as Ron says then that means obeying what He said, and Jesus was very clear on marriage and sexual morality. Any theology then that teaches an understanding of marriage and sexual morality different to what Jesus Himself taught is not legitimate development, but merely capitulation to and compromise with the spirit of the world, or more specifically, the spirit of Western secular liberalism.

Bryden Black said...

Shawn; me thinks thou dost read the cultural spirit of the age rather well ...

Then this: AE McGrath in The Intellectual Origins of the European Reformation says something like this of the intricacies of the late ME situation. Of medieval doctrine versus canon law, and the perceived unique role of Scripture vis-à-vis the former and the permitted role of ecclesiastical authorities re the latter; and then the esteem with which canon lawyers’ methods eventually came to be held, which seemingly paved the way to a large extent for the subsequent “two sources” approach that the Council of Trent ratified, despite its apparent relative novelty.

Father Ron Smith said...

Shawn is quite adamant that God "never changes His mind". Obviously Shawn is not a daily-Mass person, otherwise he would have heard a 'Word of Scripture' about this during the last week - From the experience of Job. Job, having, eventually, agreed to preach to Nineveh, and brought about their repentance, God "changed His mind' and did not destroy them".

Sometimes, a little more attention to the Scriptures can change our understanding of God's mercy.

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

There is much to which I would like to respond, but I also feel that blog comments are not always the best medium. However, let me attempt a brief response.

To answer Peter’s queries — (A) I cannot forecast how innovating provinces might react to the communion not receiving their novelties; but when this has happened in church history those individuals, and in a few cases whole churches, that wish to persist in their positions either die out or cleave off.

(B) is a bit more difficult, as I don’t think that the facts support a notion that the “historic path” for reception was via the “Instruments.” It seems to me the Instruments have sometimes put a kind of imprimatur on reception once it has actually happened, but I don’t think these retroactive endorsement have much utility, or any more than the earlier motions against the innovations. In my talk I gave the example of Lambeth’s history on Birth Control, which went from adamant opposition (1908) to marginal toleration (1930) to outright encouragement (1958). So it seems to me that the historical process has actually been lodged in the Provinces, not in Lambeth. Lambeth reflects, but does not shape, the Communion. And I think that is fine as it is.

Bryden, I think I probably did not respond because I’m having trouble understanding [part of] your thesis. The issue of culture is a stark one: as I learned recently in Africa, where Anglican clergy and bishops from East Africa shared stories of just how much the traditional culture has a hold on Christians — including clergy. A priest who is a widow told of how she was approached by her late husband’s brother with the demand he “cleanse” her by having sex with her, and that her turning to a fellow priest for aid led to an encouragement to not to rock the boat. She refused and her life was threatened. Other priests spoke of the dilemma of the concept of homosexuality in their culture — while acknowledging there are married men who also sleep with men, who while held in some opprobrium are not designated as “homosexual”. Others acknowledged that the veneer of Christianity in much of their context is set aside “at night” and the traditional practices re-emerge as a lively part of the culture. So this is the issue I was raising in light of cultural differences that create difficulties in understanding each other. There are, needless to say, many other deep cultural differences even in the way Christians work as Christians. What I am suggesting is that these cultural differences will only recede with time — and impatient efforts to whitewash over them with a light coat of what amounts to “Western Christianity” will not actually produce much common understanding.

On the issue of whether marriage is a theological matter or not, I disagree with the St. Michael Report (which, to be fair took that position in part for reasons of canon law). I address the alleged connections with imago dei and the Trinity in my book. I find that the efforts to “theologize” sexuality beyond the biblical use as an image for the relationship between God/Israel and Christ/Church leads to some real doctrinal error of the most dogmatic sort, as well as a defective anthropology.

Shawn, I did not lay down the motives God had for changing (i.e., to meet varied circumstances) I merely noted that He did change. You seemed to me to be asserting that he didn’t, which seemed odd to me given the numerous examples in Scripture. I think it goes without saying that our understanding of Scripture changes. And I agree that we must be very careful in doing that. But I think it is the church of the last century or so that has misread Jesus on marriage and sexual morality — reading into his few statements things he did not in fact say. My engagement has been one of reform — as well as determining if the changes in circumstance that have taken place since the first century warrant a change in understanding what God may want for us.

Bryden Black said...

Thanks Tobias for the extensive attempt at engaging once again. Intriguingly, your recounting your recent encounters in Africa, with all their syncretic and ambivalent elements, is an integral part of my own life story, having spent some 30% of my life in Central Africa - not that I imagine you knew that! There are other additional international components as well, just to add yet more spice (I do not say variety!). So; I am deeply aware both of the cultural principles and the kinds of specific issues you raise. All such ‘hermeneutical’ stuff is the air I have breathed for just about all my 60 years of life. Which is one reason why I chose to address your address from the angle I did. The other was your own use of what you term “The Anglican Triad” (something I read when you first posted it), and which of course you use as the primary ‘grid’ now in this recent address.

But it is clearly when we have to shift from such historical-cum-cultural perspective into a more ‘dogmatic frame’ that perhaps we part company. And it is also at this point I have discovered a good many Christian folk find the transition(s) hard to actually trace with any rigour - either when they try to ‘read’ others’ stances, or when they seek legitimation of their own claims. Which alone is one justification for an extensive - truly extensive - hanging in there together when novelties among a variegated ‘community/society’, like the AC, occur. Claims to ‘Holy Spirit authority’ are never directly or immediately solved, in my view (pace Ron’s many attempts on this site!). Your mention of “time” is right on the money! But then even when you mention this necessary feature, I’m not convinced it is a question of “receding”. Rather, it is a question of deep and sustained repentance and conversion (of the kind Athanasius terms dianoia), of the sort we might all learn when we engage with Patristic Study via the likes of Rowan Williams and Jaroslav Pelikan (I am thinking especially of the former’s magnum opus, Arius, and the latter’s Christianity and Classical Culture). The very best exponent of this approach of whom I am aware is Tom Torrance in most of his work, not least as he engages with the scientific as well brilliantly. I also suspect that Alister McGrath has inherited his mantle - only to surpass it in richness, I suspect (John of Salisbury’s “giants’ shoulders” and all that!).

So Tobias; I readily confess it may not be easy sometimes to quite join all the dots in some things I say/write - on blogs especially - as you also aver! Not only is blogging often a compressed medium, but the stuff of the air I breathe is a deeper trawling than many are even aware of ... But clearly, I shall have to now buy a copy of “your book” - by which I take it you mean Reasonable and Holy - ?? But as I do read it, please be also aware that I shall be donning those spectacles cut and honed quite explicitly and naturally from years of engagement in cross-cultural and deep hermeneutical exercises. Ones which go a bit further than the traditional comparison between primary and secondary speech and language forms re theology. Neil MacDonald speaks of “metadilemmas” when using Wittgenstein as interlocutor with Barth - and his interlocutors: I’d speak of both grammatical and metagrammatical ‘readings’ of cross-cultural situations, and especially of theological ones when probing comparative ‘dogmatic frames of reference’. All of which is humanly possible of course due to the divine mercy of genuine REVELATION, attested to in Holy Writ, the divinely appointed servant and so unique instrument in the economy of the triune God. So; your remark re the St Michael Report I take as not just a tease but a serious challenge - so long as you are up to the ‘sifting’ too! Pax et gaudium!

Bryden Black said...

Hi Ron! While you are right in my view (FWIW) re your comments trying to distinguish kinds of “change”, your appraisal of the Canadians’ St Michael Report (SMR) is actually not quite correct. What they sought to achieve (and Tobias is correct to highlight the specific impetus of their canon law here) is to distinguish a tripartite approach to ‘marriage’. There’s “core doctrine”, as expressed in the Ecumenical Creeds; there’s theology generally; and then there’s “adiaphora”. (Which schema was one reason I cited the Russian, Bolotov, recently on this site!) SMR claimed the ‘novelties’ in Canada to be of the second class, NOT the third, as you say. It was a merit in my eyes that they tried to distinguish between the first and second classes; but again IMHO, they erred in placing “Christian marriage” in the second and not the first. Clearly, in light of Tobias’s recent remarks re the SMR, he and I will have to engage further (via his “book” now)!!

Father Ron Smith said...

So many books, Bryden. When do you get time to feed your animals?

Peter Carrell said...

My guess: the reading is at speed while the animals graze at leisure on the grass the good Lord provides!

Bryden Black said...

Your questions Ron are called ... “deflection”!

Nonetheless: (1) it’s called “memory”; (2) it’s called “free range”. Unlike again the USA, where e.g. 471 ewes are housed, named, and almost pets, we have a tad more hereabouts; similarly, our beef cattle are not in feed-lots where the grain produces meat with that flabby, marshmallow, marbled look; the meat texture of grass-fed cattle is wholly different - and more delicious!

So Peter is more onto it!

Shawn said...


"From the experience of Job. Job, having, eventually, agreed to preach to Nineveh, and brought about their repentance, God "changed His mind' and did not destroy them".

Sometimes, a little more attention to the Scriptures can change our understanding of God's mercy."

Your assuming this was not God's intention all along. There is not the space here to go into this, but I would recommend 'Out of Bounds', a critique of the theology of Open Theism, which also makes the claim that God changes His mind. The book deals with the various Biblical examples in which God is supposedly shown changing His mind, including the one you use.

It can be downloaed as a free pdf file from Desiring God minsitries.

Not being a "daily mass" person does not mean I am not familiar with Scripture.


I have never understood why it is that certain parts of the Church like to say that Jesus only said a few things about marriage and sexuality.

So what?

They are still the words of our Lord. It seems to me totally irrelevant to the issue of whether we should obey Him or not.

I have read several books and many articles from both sides of the sexuality debate, and all I can say here is that I do not think the pro-homosexual lobby has come even close to making a case for change that is Biblically sound.

There really has not been that much change since the first century. On the contrary, modern Western society in many respects looks very similar to Roman society. Pluralism, sexual liberty, a more or less tolerant approach to homosexual behaviour, paganism, and so forth. Jesus preached at a time that was not that different to ours socially, yet he does not seem to have tailored His teaching to Roman sensibilities.

What has changed that we need to ignore Jesus and the witness of Scripture?

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Shawn, I don't know if you have read my book or not, so I don't know if you would dismiss the arguments I make in it, which are rather different that those most commonly made.

However, my point about the sayings of Jesus on this particular point is that Jesus said nothing about same-sex marriage. Neither does the Scripture as a whole. There are a number of passages that speak negatively about certain same-sex practices, but none of these have anything to do with marriage, but with rape, idolatry, and prostitution.

Again, this is not the space to engage in a detailed argument on these points. But I think you are, from a historic perspective, mistaken that nothing has changed since the first century. The form of homosexuality railed against by Paul, and in the early church fathers who felt the need to address it (such as Clement of Alexandria) is pederasty -- a form of sexual behavior common in the Hellenistic world. This is not the form of same-sex behavior that anyone in the church is seeking to defend.

Father Ron Smith said...

I've just got the feeling, Shawn, that nothing that can be brought up by the apologists for homosexuality being part of the God-ordained range of sexual responses, so no point in arguing this matter with you.
Blessings, Fr. Ron

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Thanks to you too, Bryden. Let me highlight that my approach in Reasonable and Holy is rather classically Anglican and patristic. I'm less concerned about the higher philosophical concerns, and seek to place the thinking within the classical course of understanding. Thus my concerns with recent efforts to "theologize" marriage (i.e., JP II on the "Body") deal with fairly standard issues raised in relation to the Chalcedonian Definition, which gives us a very particular reading of human nature, and one supported in the later fathers as well, until undercut by folks like Barth who sought to discredit celibate life in community. I am also a sitckler for an accurate reading of texts -- hence my concern when people make broad pronouncements about "what the Scripture says." That is primary even before getting to "what the Scripture means" far less "what it means for us." (That is about as post-modern as I get!)

I commend the blog I set up for the book for comments -- there are links to comment on each chapter, or for general comments.

Thanks again for the willingness to engage. I have found very few in the "conservative" world ready to engage my arguments. I was saddened to see Ephraim Radner, for example, write a very long review that managed not to engage very well at all with the actual arguments --- but wandered off into concerns related to form --- and I am not the only one to make the observation about it.

Peace and all good.

Mark Baddeley said...

Chewing over Tobias' response to my question, I think I understand the argument to be:

1. One can't know ahead of time what will prove to be Anglican or not. That's a contingent outcome of history and can only be known retrospectively.

2. As a consequence Anglicanism is about a free hand to innovate, but only those innovations received are Anglican.

3. To the degree that Anglicanism has a core, it's the Lambeth quadrilateral, and an openness to the process of point 2.

If I've got that right, that's a coherent position. And it's a genuinely 'Anglican' position in the sense that it is again making an argument for "the true nature of Anglicanism" - that game Anglicans like to play, where we say 'my take on, or branch of, Anglicanism represents the true heart of Anglicanism'. This is a (relatively conservative) liberal or revisionist take on what Anglicanism "is".

That's fine, we all play that game, and it is a game that needs to be played. But I think it suffers from the same problem all other takes on the true core of Anglicanism suffer from - it isn't immediately obvious that it is right.

I think leaders of the Church of England anywhere up until around the 19th Century would have been surprised to learn that this was the true essence of the Church of England and its daughter churches in the colonies. It's an ahistorical description of Anglicanism, if it has to have explanatory power for the earlier history of the Church of England.

And it's a "ageographical" explanation if it is supposed to cover all Anglicanism in the present - because while more open evangelicals and liberals will be happy with openness to the process as the heart of Anglicanism, conservative evangelicals and conservative Anglo-Catholics would be far less so - both of those strands see the essence of Anglicanism as something deposited in the past with a reasonably fixed form and content that needs to be reasserted in the present. Why elevate the Quadrilateral over, say the 39 articles, or the consensus of the Early Church?

As the answer stands here (and this could shift with more details) the reception process also seems too arbitrary. In the effort to make point 1 robust (a point I quite agree with - one can't tell in the middle of a debate what the future consensus will be and that consensus will be 'orthodoxy') it seems like it has no real norms to control it. There's the quadrilateral that tells us which norms to value, and a gesture that episcopacy is utterly basic, but nothing more.

If some Anglicans deny that Jesus Christ is the eternal Son of God, incarnate, God from God, true God from true God, is that true to Anglicanism? Should Anglicans receive that or not? Or should we just be open to the process of reception there? Do we have here the problem we're seeing in TEC where episcopacy is core and doctrine is negotiable?

Personally, having sat in Diarmaid McCulloch's lectures on the Elizabethan settlement, I struggle to see episcopacy as core. As far as I can see, the argument for the three fold order was originally nothing more than, "we're free to do this, and it's what the crown wants". That's a very adiaphora thing to ground one of the few bits of content to Anglicanism on.

My other thought is that I can't see why one would oppose the covenant on these grounds (and I oppose the covenant). On these grounds, the covenant too is just part of the reception process. It won't stop it inorganically, it will be received organically (if it is), and will then alter the organic process from that point, like all other changes do. There's nothing artificial or inorganic about that, because it is a change that comes to Anglicanism from within, not imposed upon it by the efforts of external force. And that's a genuinely organic process.

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Mark, thanks for the comment. I must respond very briefly as I have an appt this a.m.

I don't think your historical critique works. As I framed my talk in terms of what the Articles actually say, and I don't think I'm reading them with a sidelong glance, but exactly as they intend, the three principles I lay our are indeed familiar to the classically Anglican thinking prior to, say, the 1950s when efforts began to coalesce towards a more structured Communion. Read, for instance, the letter calling for the first Lambeth Conference. This is not about doctrine, but the structure of the church -- and, for instance, the whole point of "national churchdom" is not about any particular doctrine, but the freedom of a national church to govern itself -- if need be correcting errors it feels were imposed on it from outside (e.g., Rome).

THus I think you aren't understanding the weight I give the CLQ. For example, your line about denying Jesus as Incarnate Son of God: this is excluded by the Nicene Creed, which is part of the CLQ. I rest my case on creedal orthodoxy, and I think that is an essential element in Anglicanism in terms of credenda. The issue I was trying to address in my talk was not about the credenda, but the Way of Working, the polity, if you will, of the Communion, how it makes decisions (in so far as this diffuse and extended process can be understood as decision-making!)

So my talk is not about the Content of Anglican Belief, but the Form of Anglican Polity and Discourse. And the fault I find with the Covenant is that is makes (to my mind unnecessary) changes to that Form -- providing a different way to manage disagreement, but one which I think is counterproductive as well as counter to some deeply held formal principles of Anglicanism, as I've laid them out. I have few minor objections to the first three parts that attempt to summarize the "content" of Anglican belief. I've always said --- I think I said it in this talk -- the problem is the change to discipline, not doctrine.

Peter Carrell said...

Running the risk of over-simplification my reflection on this discussion, prompted by Tobias' last comment, is that a pivoting question then is whether 'marriage' is part of 'doctrine' (or of 'discipline'). I suggest one way to define the divide in the Communion (and the divide here in this thread) is that some are of the conviction that marriage falls within 'doctrine' while others are not.

To the simple objection that marriage is not mentioned in the great creeds there are a number of responses, the most obvious being that the simple acceptance of marriage as being between a man and a woman, through Scripture, through Christian history, meant that there was no need to define it explicitly as being part of doctrine. (I mention this not so much to prolong the argumentation here as to offer a rationale for those of us who think marriage is part of Anglican doctrine, a rationale incidentally in which Scripture, tradition and reason line up, supported by the fact of the doctrine's expression within the BCP by way of the marriage rite there).

With specific reference to Tobias' own work, Reasonable and Holy, I suggest the core question is whether 'gender' is a value in respect of marriage or not. Again, the divide is between those who do see it so and those who do not.

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Peter, I would have to say that while I think you have articulated where the divide lies, you present what I can only see as a very weak case for "doctrine" -- if I can crudely paraphrase, "so clear as to need no exposition."! It is also somewhat ahistorical to those familiar with Patristic writings and early church liturgy. Marriage was tolerated (following Paul's "it is no sin") in the early church, as a civil phenomenon, but no efforts were made to bring it under any kind of doctrinal or even liturgical recognition for quite some time. This attitude was recovered in the Reformation by Lutherans ('a matter for the town hall') and Anglicans ('an estate allowed by Scripture.') Scripture reveals no doctrinal theology of marriage, though Paul engages in some pastoral advice to the married.

Again, I will take my stand with the early Fathers and classical Anglicanism on this one. It is a matter of pastoral, not dogmatic, theology.

Peter Carrell said...

Would any of our fathers or mothers in the faith, ancient or Anglican, Tobias, have entertained the notion that marriage could be between a man and a man or a woman and a woman?

I suggest on the question of whether marriage could be other than between a man and a woman these fathers and mothers would have been quite dogmatic in their answer!

Shawn said...


"Jesus said nothing about same-sex marriage. Neither does the Scripture as a whole. There are a number of passages that speak negatively about certain same-sex practices, but none of these have anything to do with marriage, but with rape, idolatry, and prostitution."

Yes, I have come across this argument many times, in fact its a pretty standard one in pro-homosexual publications. But again, I do not think it really stands up to close scrutiny.

Homosexual marriage was unknown in the Hewbrew world because it would have been seen as immoral. That Jesus and Scripture do not specifically mention it is therefore hardly surprising. Arguments from silence however are dubious. That Jesus does not specifically mention modern liberal notions of marriage simply means that they did not exist at that time. But it is reasonable to ask, based on the sheer overwhelming wieght of Biblical testimony, if he would have apporoved. I don't think that it can reasonably be argued in the affirmative.

The various passages concerning homosexual sex make no mention of rape, prostitution or other issues. They simply mention homosexuality.

" Scripture reveals no doctrinal theology of marriage"

I disagree. Both in Genesis and in Jesus' response to the Pharisees over divorce we do have a clear theology of marriage. It is a creation orinance instituted by God and is between one man and one women for life. In Christian terms it is an icon of Christ's marriage to the Church.

Father Ron Smith said...

Obviously, Saint Paul saw marriage a the inferior option - whether or not in the light of imminent parousia is hardly relevant.

Traditions can change - as so many of them have.

Shawn said...

Just a point of clarification.

In speaking for the "traditional" view of Christian marriage I am speaking soley to what the Church should teach and practice. It is often assumed that if a person takes the traditional view within the Church then they also want to impose that view in society as a whole.

I do not take that view.

As a Libertarian I strongly believe that every individual as the absolute right to live their lives as they see fit, without interference from the State, so long as they respect that same right in others.

In a Libertarian society homosexuals would be completely free to marry, adopt children, or anything else they want.

This does not mean I approve of their choices, merely that uphold the right of all people to be free from coercive force.

Shawn said...

Traditions change, but the Word of God is eternal.

"“Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.”

Howard Pilgrim said...

Shawn wrote, "The various passages concerning homosexual sex make no mention of rape, prostitution or other issues. They simply mention homosexuality."

Really? Please refer us to even one passage that uses the term "homosexuality". This is a modern construct, based on post-biblical social and sexual realities. The very point at issue, which you are ignoring in what Tobias has written, is to what these realities have in common with the subject matter addressed by the various biblical writers. To name it as a single phenomenon, as you do, simply begs the question.

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Peter, when you go to speculation about what people might have said, you can come up with just about anything. And our task might be simpler if the issue of same-sex marriage had arisen and been addressed, as clearly as, say, marriage after divorce. But SSM simply wasn't an issue for the early church. The main concern was pederasty and prostitution and the abuse of slaves -- which the church did strongly condemn.

And as a matter of fact, the post-Nicene "brother-making" liturgy of the Eastern tradition was used as "same-sex marriage" even though it can be argued that was not its intent. The vociferous denials seem strained, and remind me of the language of recently exposed politicians. This common use of the rite is precisely why it came to be suppressed in the modern era.

Ultimately there is no reason to think the early or Patristic church was any more -- or wanted to be any more -- "aware" of the reality of the range of same-sex relationships than was the 19th century church -- or the Church of England today. Closets have been around for a long time.

The issue has to be addressed as a point of moral theology and/or ethics. What exactly is wrong about a mutually loving, adult, life-long, same-sex marriage? All of the values of morality lie in fidelity, care and love, not biological sex --- the flesh. After all, a heterosexual marriage is not morally good because the couple are heterosexual, but because they are faithful and loving.

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

I would also point out that we've wandered rather far from the discussion of the development of doctrine! Though perhaps not so far as to render this totally off-point.

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Shawn, as I suggested to Peter, I'm not sure this is the place to address your comments. Suffice it to say you are clearly not in possession of the facts. This is not the place to spell it all out (I've done so elsewhere), but all of the biblical passages alleged to reference "homosexuality" (in itself an inaccuracy since there is no such word or concept in Hebrew or Greek) are in connection with rape, prostitution or idolatry. You may not accept that, but it is in the text itself -- though many translations have made that difficult to see.

But, as I say, these matters have been discussed at greater length elsewhere.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Tobias,

I will attempt to focus on the doctrinal aspects of this discussion, with special reference to 'reception':

(1) Our ancient fathers and mothers received the teaching of the apostles, developed and deepened it. Not one bit of what they say about marriage and singlness opens up the possibility that they would agree with you on same sex marriage.

(2) The ancient brother-making liturgies in the Eastern church should be discussed not shouted down: yes. In that discussion it would be important to see the clear, unmistakeable evidence that this practice was widely received in the universal church. I am not aware of that evidence, and on your own description it was largely confined to the Eastern church. Even then I am not aware that it was a widely received innovation in that part of the universal church. In point of fact, in the end the practice died out which suggests that the church did the opposite of receiving this innovation: it did not receive it.

(3) I think it would be less fraught in general terms to argue that the issue before the church today is change in society as we are living in it today: what shall be our response? Practices partially and temporarily received in the history of the church are of interest to that question but scarcely precedent setting.

(4) I disagree with you "The issue has to be addressed as a point of moral theology and/or ethics." Rather than further take this thread away from the theme of doctrine into the specifics of what you say, I suggest that it is the doctrine of marriage and not the morality of marriage which is at issue. The doctrinal point is whether our teaching about marriage should suppose marriage is between a man and a woman or not; the supposition's investigation must then take account of what is revealed to us in Scripture about the nature of marriage and whether man/woman is intrinsic to that revelation or not. (Incidentally that leaves open other questions, for example, whether there is moral good in a faithful, permanent, loving relationship between two people of the same gender, a question which does lie in the realm of moral theology).

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Peter, the difficulty I have with this line of argument is that it begs the question that marriage is a matter of doctrine. It seems to me that the Scriptural concerns are all about morality, not doctrine -- that is, permanent fidelity is the issue Jesus is addressing, and the one Paul reaffirms. It is about how the couple relate to each other.

I believe that Scripture does provide support for same-sex marriage; nor does it insist that marriage be between one man and one woman. The greatest "love-covenant" in the Hebrew Scripture was between two men. (There is no biblical Hebrew word for "marriage" as you know, at least for men. Men "marry" women by "taking" them, and the women become "married" (lit., "lorded" -- be'ulah). Again, I've made my case at great length elsewhere. You may choose to disregard the evidence, or disagree with it, but pretending it isn't there is an inadequate response.

You want to shift this to the level of a doctrinal matter in spite of my pointing out that there is no discernible doctrine of marriage in Scripture: but only the moral point that it is an honorable and permanent estate. (Or if there is such a doctrine, what is it?) Again you surmise about what the early church might have done or not done, but you really can't expect to take that as a term in an argument. The argument didn't happen, and we don't know what they might have said or not said. I can merely "assert" the contrary, but have no more proof than you do.

Nor is there doctrinal development in the early church for some centuries -- the West did not require participation of the church in marriage until the late Middle Ages. Even then the "doctrinal discussions" concerned what constituted the marriage (contract or coitus), and what impediments might exist. It was much more a matter of canon law than theology proper -- and never dogmatic until Rome demanded the presence of the priest for licit marriage.

What we are seeing now is actual theological development -- on a moral theological basis -- and it really doesn't form an intelligible term in this argument to state the obvious: that this is novel. Unless you take the Reformed view that only that which is explicitly permitted in Scripture is permissible today (a view rejected by the Anglican Divines) then openness to the real theological discussion must needs be retained. And that theological discussion will center on the issues of moral theology that I raised before.

The matter comes down to a theology of human being: either the sexual difference reflects an eternal spiritual difference, with all the implications for morality, or it doesn't. I think it doesn't -- indeed it cannot without imperiling truly core doctrinal matter such as the Incarnation. And I do think on those grounds that a Scriptural case can be made for same-sex marriage.

Perhaps it would be better to continue the details of this argument when you've had opportunity to engage with my book. Although this conversation is helpful, the full range of detail is constrained here.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Tobias,
Might it be anachronistic to say of Scripture that it distinguishes between doctrine and morality?!

The teaching or doctrine about marriage in Scripture is quite clear and it is a surprise to me that a man of your learning cannot see that. The doctrine is taught by Jesus himself when he was provided with the opportunity to do so through a question about divorce.

"But from the beginning of creation, 'God made them male and female.' [Gen. 1:27] 'Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.' [Gen 2:24] So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate." (Mark 10:6-9).

This is the doctrine. It is reflected in the Book of Common Prayer in 'The Form of Solemnization of Matrimony', bearing in mind that as Anglicans we believe our liturgies express our doctrine.

Later requirements by the church that a priest must be present to solemnize what God does in the joining together; discussion and argument over divorce and remarriage (tricky nuances in how the gospels record Jesus' teaching); discussion as to whether or not Paul thought of marriage as inferior to singleness are all grist to the historical and moral theological mills.

It is a novelty to consider the possibility which neither Scripture nor any ancient entertained, that a man and a woman are not required for a marriage to take place. It is certainly novel to argue that Scripture supports same sex marriage. When I have time I intend to get back to your book and engage with what you argue there. But I will be engaging with novelty as part of a process of reception which is far from complete and not obvious that it will succeed.

Sexual difference, by the way, is of eternal spiritual significance: without sexual difference there would not be people to populate heaven, nor would there have been a mother to give birth to the Incarnate Son.

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Peter, thanks for spelling this out. The problems, of course, immediately arise:

1) Isn't this really a focused teaching on the indissolubility of marriage rather than "a theology of marriage"?

2) What about other things Jesus said about marriage, such as that "the children of the resurrection do not marry, nor are they given in marriage, but are like the angels in heaven." In heaven, as in Christ, there is no more "male and female" for "they cannot die any more."

3) what about his (and Paul's) clear preference for celibacy? What does it mean to be "a eunuch for the sake of heaven"?

4) Does the practice of "a man" (leaving father and mother, etc.) necessarily be the practice for "all men"? That is, does the approval shown for mixed-sex marriage in Genesis necessarily place limits on any other relationships -- for all?

No, I'm afraid, Peter, that a simple prooftext will not provide a "theology of marriage." It leaves too many questions unanswered.

As to your assertion concerning the sex difference -- yes, biological sex exists for the purpose of fruitfulness and multiplication -- but that it not the only purpose of sexuality. Humans are particularly designed by God not only to be capable of sexual congress during times of fertility, but at any time they are willing -- so by design humans are not restricted to using sex only for reproduction. This allows, among other things, the building up of deeper affection, and, as Paul suggests, "a remedy for fornication." (Another biblical purpose for marriage.)

And, btw, no sexual difference or joining of male and female was needed for the Incarnation: only Mary -- and she is (as the fathers support) the bestower of the full and complete human nature upon Jesus, and he is consubstantial with all of humanity through a woman. Maleness and femaleness are accident, not essence, of the human person.

And all of this real scriptural material and patristic reflection goes in part to support opening marriage to couples of the same sex, as it goes to support the understanding that the sex-difference is not intrinsically significant of the human person as human, and made in the image of God. As Aquinas points out, the divine image is in the mind, not the sex-difference. And as the Bard said, "to the marriage of true minds" let us not "admit impediments."

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Peter, in my rush to move to the later part of your comment, I neglected to address your opening question. "Might it be anachronistic to say of Scripture that it distinguishes between doctrine and morality?!" I would say that I don't see the Scripture, for the most part, "doing theology." (Paul's letters likely come closest.) Rather I think Scripture is mostly Testimony -- and Revelation: it is the raw material for the church to do theology. And in fact, when people often refer to a "biblical doctrine" a degree of exposition and/or interpretation is required, and something beyond the bare text of Scripture needs to be added to flesh it out. For instance, the Scripture on its own does not provide a clear articulation either of the Incarnation or the Trinity -- it provides the Testimony on which these doctrines are developed.

My point -- and I see we've drifted between dogma and doctrine -- is that whatever theology there is concerning marriage is by tradition handled as a matter of pastoral or moral theology, not dogmatic theology. Most systematics pass it by. The English Catechism (1662) didn't even mention marriage as I recall, and the Articles only to clarify that it is an "estate allowed" and the liturgy that it is instituted of God, and honorable, and has specific ends or goods. (This is analyzed in detail in R&H) There is a "doctrine" in the sense of a teaching or practice, but it isn't really dogmatic theology. That is the point I was trying to make, which I think was lost in the undergrowth of this thread.

Peter Carrell said...

I need to go to Morning Prayer and the unfolding busyness of the day, Tobias, but would like to come back to this. By not responding now, however, I hope I leave space for others to engage!

Anonymous said...

Tobias Haller states: "all of the biblical passages alleged to reference "homosexuality" (in itself an inaccuracy since there is no such word or concept in Hebrew or Greek) are in connection with rape, prostitution or idolatry."

This is not true at all. Robert Gagnon has comprehensively answered this repeated and fallacious claim. Homosexual love and behavior were widespread in the Greco-Roman world and were by no means confined to "abusive" cases. Plato's Symposium praises homosexual love as superior to heterosexual, and this fact was widely known in the first century, while homosexual relations (eromenos / erastes) among youth were central to Spartan education. The first century 'Wilson Cup' (on display in the British Museum) clearly depicts youthful, consensual homosexual behavior - imagine displaying that in your feasts!
The old adelphopoiesis ceremony had nothing to do with eroticism; it was the eastern Mediterranean equivalent of becoming blood brothers.

Father Ron Smith said...

So far on this thread, I think the arguments of Tobias more defensible than those of his opposition.

Tradition ought never be exclusive of 'further revelation'; otherwise there is no need for theologians to tease out the difference between 'core doctrine' and 'adiaphora'.

After all, no one has yet been able to explain in precise terms what will be the process of eschatology - in terms of how it will affect individuals and their prospect of any ongoing filial relationships.

There's still a lot to learn, and the Holy Spirit is still engaging with us - as we are prepared and happy to listen.

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Carl, Gagnon's work is deeply flawed, and those flaws have been amply addressed by a number of biblical critics. I go into some of his errors and misrepresentations and dodgy scholarship in my book. He is clearly a man with a mission, and that often leads him off track and into untenable assertions.

I am not referring to same-sex behavior in the Hellenistic world, but to the passages alleged to address it in the Bible. All of these passages read as "anti-homosex" (as Gagnon puts it) are related to rape, idolatry, or prostitution.

That pederasty was the "approved" form of same-sex relationships in Hellenistic culture is amply attested to. That some men may have remained in such relationships into later life is also documented, but often only to be ridiculed. (See Aristophanes in Plato's Symposium as well as in his own works, as well as Dover's work on the subject.) When early post-biblical authors condemn same-sex behavior it is pederasty they are referring to: see Clement of ALexandria.

The existence of homosexual relations in the Graeco-Roman world was generally attributed, in the Rabbinic Hebrew and early Christian mindset, to idolatry. See Romans 1, for what I would have thought was a rather clear exposition of Paul's thinking on that relationship. In my work I suggest he may have been scandalized by a Grecian urn or two. I very much doubt he knew anything about Sparta, but I think he would not have approved.

The adelphopoesis ceremony did have to do with becoming something like "blood brothers" but that does not mean eroticism was necessarily excluded in practice. It is the latter to which I refer, and such a use of the rite as a form of "same-sex marriage" was acknowledged long before Boswell though he had discovered something.

Gagnon is not an answer to the question. His misrepresentations, particularly of the intertestmental and deuterocanonical material, have been amply exposed.

But again, this has all been addressed more thoroughly elsewhere. The topic with which this post began, is the concept of organic development of practices in the history of the church, and the role of reception in that process.

Shawn said...


"Please refer us to even one passage that uses the term "homosexuality". This is a modern construct, based on post-biblical social and sexual realities. The very point at issue, which you are ignoring in what Tobias has written, is to what these realities have in common with the subject matter addressed by the various biblical writers."

Our English Bibles translate a variety of terms as "homosexual". This is not a modern post-biblical construct. Same sex relations were common in Greek and Roman cultures, and it is these relationships that the Bible addresses. Trying to pretend that modern homosexual relationships are something different is simple dishonesty.


"Suffice it to say you are clearly not in possession of the facts. This is not the place to spell it all out (I've done so elsewhere), but all of the biblical passages alleged to reference "homosexuality" (in itself an inaccuracy since there is no such word or concept in Hebrew or Greek) are in connection with rape, prostitution or idolatry. You may not accept that, but it is in the text itself"

On the contrary, you are not talking about facts, but about Liberal distortions of clear Biblical teaching. The claim that these passages only refer to rape, prostitution and idolatry has been made ad-infinitum by pro-homosexual theologians, and I have read their works and considered their arguments, and they do not stack up to close scrutiny.

For example Robert Gagnon in his book 'The Bible and Homosexual Practice" has dealt with the claims your making, and has shown clearly that they arise from an invalid hermenuetic.

It IS true that homosexuality is connected to idolatry, but that is still true today. Idolatry is more than just the worship of statues, it is any behaviour to exalts something as a false god. In the case of homosexuality, it is the exalting of a person's sexual desires and compulsions, and making these rather than God, the central source of personal identity.

The basic argument regarding prostitution made my pro-homosexual theologians is that "'Arsenokoite' is a word coined by Paul. It never appeared in Greek literature before he used it in these scriptures. There were, at the time, other words for "homosexual." Had he meant to refer to homosexuality, he would have used one of the words already in existence. Most likely, he was referring to male prostitution, which was common at the time."

However, a breakdown of the term shows this to be false.

Arsene means male and Koite means bed.

The two words combined, as Paul used them, put "male" and "bed" together in a sexual sense. There is no hint of prostitution, idolatry or rape in the meaning of either of the words combined to make arsenokoite.

Derrick K. Olliff and Dewey H. Hodges respond to all the claims you make. Actually its a response to Daniel Helminiak's pro-gay theology, but Helminak is treading the same ground as you.

A thinly disguised "your ignorant" comment is sadly typical of the way in which the pro-gay fringe in the church has conducted itself.

As I said, I have read widely on this issue. If you do not like the conclusion I have come to, calling me ignorant is not a Christian response.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Tobias,
Nothing you say above casts any doubt on the fact that Jesus (in keeping with the Old Testament) understood marriage to be between a man and a woman. Extending discussion into heaven, eunuchs, sex for pleasure, deepening affection, as well as for procreation does not change that fact.

Nothing you say at any point adduces any Scriptural support for same sex marriage. All that you do say raises reasonable doubts as to whether same sex marriage is completely ruled out by Scripture: but that is not the same as saying Scripture supports same sex marriage.

We are talking about the development of doctrine in the life of the Communion, with reference to the reception of proposals for innovations in doctrine, or, if you continue to insist on the distinction, in moral theology. I suggest that the reception you seek, across the whole Communion would be aided by a greater appreciation of what our Lord taught. I think Anglicans care about that and do not care to have the doubts cast upon that you do.

Perhaps the case for acceptance of the holiness of same sex partnerships can be received by the Communion. I humbly suggest that your methodology is not the way to go about securing that reception.

Howard Pilgrim said...

Peter, you seem fairly comfortable in your dismissive appraisal of Tobias' detailed arguments offered in this thread:-
"Perhaps the case for acceptance of the holiness of same sex partnerships can be received by the Communion. I humbly suggest that your methodology is not the way to go about securing that reception."
Given that you haven't yet claimed to have read his book on the subject, I am struggling to recognize the humility in your suggestion.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Howard,
I am talking about the methodology present in this thread, a thread which may be being read by more conservatives in our church than will read Tobias' book.

In particular I am drawing attention to and questioning the methodology which, in this thread, seems to place so little weight on the affirmation of Jesus on marriage being between a man and a woman. I find that singularly unpersuasive. I could butter up the word "nothing" in my comment above, but when all was buttered up, the content of my assessment remains, nothing is brought forward which casts doubt on Jesus' affirmation and nothing is brought forward which shows Scripture's support for same sex marriage.

Please note carefully: I am thoughtful enough to understand that drawing those conclusions does not end the discussion, does not mean that the book is not worth reading, does not mean there is nothing to talk further about. There are questions of how we account for relationships which are not marriages, of how we account for the difficult bits of Scripture (notably, as already noted above, the nuances in the treatment of the question of divorce and remarriage). I am also quite seriously alive to the possibility that other arguments can be brought forward (and may be in the book). But I stand by my conclusion that casting doubts on the clear affirmation of Jesus, and proposing that Scripture offers support for same sex marriage when it does not (at best it offers support for a Jonathan/David deep friendship), is not the way to persuade Anglicans to receive innovation in respect of sexual ethics.

Anonymous said...

Tobias Haller is mistaken - and rather imperious - in his dismissal of Gagnon's exceptionally detailed work as "flawed", and in repeating the claim - frequently refuted - that the Bible only condemns homosexual behavior in "abusive" or idolatrous contexts. Shawn has answered this point above on Romans 1. I would add that arsenokoites, if a Pauline coining, has close parallels with LXX Leviticus 18. David Wright of Edinburgh suggested this a few years ago.
(Spartan homosexuality, btw, was not pederastic: the age difference between the eronomenos and the erastes was not great. Simlarly, the Sacred Band of Thebes was the original gay army.)
Brent Shaw has shown years ago the flaws in Boswell's special pleading and it is surprisng to see these claims reasserted - but maybe not if the passage of time also brings ignorance as well as light:
Yes, Robert Gagnon is certainly "a man on a mission" - but so is Tobias Haller, and he is engaged in mental gymnastics to make the texts say things they don't.

Father Ron Smith said...

Peter, the very fact that you have just admitted that people who have contributed to this conversation, and who otherwise might be looking in on this thread "may not have read" the book written by Tobias; indicates what surely ought to be recognised.

Most of your readers are, like yourself, evangelical conservatives who obviously have a problem with the thesis that Tobias is talking about here - and that he has more fully explained in his book: 'Reasonable and Holy'. You admit that you have not read it fully. What sort of basis is that for informed argumentation against it?

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Shawn, I did not meant to imply any character flaw when I said you were not in possession of all of the facts. As I noted in an earlier comment, Gagnon's work is not to be trusted: he misquotes, misattributes, and in some cases simply invents things. If his goal were more modest, he would not need to go so far.

You seem not to appreciate that just because scholars disagree only the ones you agree with are correct. One must examine the claims and test them objectively. Thus the issue of the etymology of arsenokoite is not quite so simple as you describe it. In the Septuagint, for example, "koiten arsenos" is used in reference to women! There is also attestation in the literature to its use to describe male prostitutes.

But, once more, this is not the place for an extended discussion. I will stand by my earlier statement regarding the Biblical descriptions of male homosexuality (there is only one possible reference to female homosexuality, and it likely is not even that!). I have laid out the arguments in detail in my book, including refuting Gagnon's assertions by exposing his errors and misrepresentations.

You may not accept those arguments, but they have been made.

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Indeed, Peter. My argument is that, in keeping with Anglican tradition as expounded in the Articles and by Hooker, is that innovations do not need to be explicitly supported by Scripture. The Articles are quite clear that only things "required" need be based on Scripture. The church is free to innovate in areas about which Scripture is either neutral or silent.

So I need not demonstrate that Scripture mandates SSM -- it is enough to show, as I attempt to do, that it does not rule it out. It is not required of anyone -- just like mixed-sex marriage.

As you will see when you get to those chapters, the case I make actually does rest on what our Lord taught. I believe that same-sex marriage is fully in keeping with the teaching of Genesis 2 and the Summary of the Law. And I base this on a very close and faithful reading of the text. You may say, when you've reviewed it, that I have failed to make my case; but that is the case I make.

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Carl, once again, you, like Shawn, seem to think that when a scholar with whom you agree critiques something a scholar with whom you don't agree speaks that is the end of the discussion.

As I say, I have analyzed and exposed [some of] the flaws in Gagnon's scholarship. Again, you may not accept my exposition, but it is documented by reference to the sources upon which Gagnon relies. You see, I'm one of those people who checks references, and when you see someone make a claim and cite a source, and the source doesn't back up the claim, one grows suspicious. Gagnon does this too often to be a reliable scholar, in my opinion. His effort at volume of evidence, gather where God did not scatter, so to speak, does not reflect well on him.

Similarly, Shaw's "refutation" of Boswell rests not on what Boswell actually says, but on what, as Shaw puts it, he must have meant. This inability to deal with what people actually say betrays an inflexibility to engage in actual conversation. Boswell's claim is actually quite modest: that these rites were used for same-sex unions. And they were, as I say, attested to in the literature long before Boswell came across them.

So far from mental gymnastics, I am only interested in the truth.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron,
I am carefully trying to argue here with what is being said in the thread, not with what is written elsewhere.

(The little I have read so far of the book is consistent with what Tobias is writing here; and that little suggests to me that what I am saying here is consistent with a (presumably) wider and longer set of concerns about the argument in the book. Conversely, I recognise that the book is longer than the thread here and will be found to include things I agree with!)

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Tobias,

When above in an earlier comment your wrote, "I believe that Scripture does provide support for same-sex marriage; nor does it insist that marriage be between one man and one woman", I took exception because that statement goes too far and is unsupported by what you say.

When in your most recent comment re my comments you write, "The church is free to innovate in areas about which Scripture is either neutral or silent.

So I need not demonstrate that Scripture mandates SSM -- it is enough to show, as I attempt to do, that it does not rule it out. It is not required of anyone -- just like mixed-sex marriage." then here is more fruitful ground for mutual exploration because I accept that a case could be made for the situation today being unaddressed by Scripture.

I am getting closer to being able to look into your book and the arguments I will find there.

Anonymous said...

No, I don't accept that you have down what you claim to have done: to have interacted throughly with Gagnon and refuted him. His books and website are extremely comprehensive in their scope, and much more than your own historical surveys. Ephraim Radner says of your book:

"I mention Gagnon here because he is among the more prominent objects of negative reflection by Haller, even though he makes only a few appearances; many scholars of note on the topic, from Richard Hays on, are absent altogether. In short, this is not a book designed to argue, let alone be capable of arguing a position seriously; it is instead a series of scattershot opinions, some of them sophisticated and often interestingly presented, but in generally quite unsubstantiated ways. Caveat lector."

Radner justly calls your approach "a tissue of 'maybe'"[i.e. "The Bible doesn't actually exclude X"] and you exemplify that above with the preposterous claim that the Bible would countenance same-sex "marriage". I could far more easily show that the Bible countenances polygamy. Are you willing to concede that?
I don't doubt that revisionists are winning the culture war. But that is not what matters to me.

Bryden Black said...

A. Wow! One goes away for a couple of days to attend to such worldly things as budget reviews, and ... the comment numbers and range of topics explode ...!

Three things: (1)Tobias, thanks for pointing me to your R&H blog page; helpful appetizer, prompting the bit below. (2) I agree that the Articles speak of matters “repugnant to Scripture” - which then permit the continuance of the likes of the three-fold order of ministry, which while not commanded (shall we say) by the NT, the NT does not explicitly forbid. Which then also allows us to differentiate between matters of the esse of the Church and those practices that are of its/her bene esse. But then (3) such permissible “may bes” have a hallowed history - at least, this was Hooker’s point I sense re the CoE vs. the Puritans, allowing the Historic Episcopate vs. its dissolution by Presbyterians. I am not sure that so far Tobias’s “may bes” have such a “history” at all ...

And so onto my own actual comment, while I get a copy of R&H into my hands to see if this next line of argument is adequately dealt with. For I sense Tobias has made a simple and single mistake, a category mistake no less. He writes:

I deliberately took the exhortation of the marriage rite in the Book of Common Prayer as my model in examining a theology for same-sex marriage. I believe I have convincingly demonstrated that procreation cannot be held to be an essential element in marriage precisely because, according to the church's teaching, marriage is not forbidden to those who cannot procreate.

Agreed; the Church does not forbid marriage to those who cannot procreate. But let us examine the reasons for such inability to procreate. If we do so, I sense there will emerge an essential difference between such reasons, a difference that reveals an eliding of categories, instead of a clear distinction, being made in the hands of Tobias.

1. Perhaps the couple are simply too old to have children, for they are in their sixties. I know couples who have married in their sixties - and older! - and naturally there is no expectation of children: like Sarah, the wife is past child-bearing, being post menopause, and unlike Sarah, she is not destined to anticipate “life from the dead” - no matter how much supposed ‘Abrahamic faith’ her husband tries to show! If of course they had been say thirty years younger, the natural expectation would have been for them to produce children.

2. Then there is the simple fact that one or other of the spouses may be physiologically deficient. We live after all in a fallen world, and the human reproductive process is not immune to the effects of the Fall.

3. Then again we might encounter other facets of the Fall. Perhaps one or other of the spouses has contracted a serious STI, rendering them infertile. Increasingly this is the case in many a nation where traditional sexual mores have crumbled.

Bryden Black said...

B. 4. Or perhaps one or other of the spouses has been forcibly sterilised. This is not unknown either today or in yesteryear: so-called population control programmes represent the former and the traditional estate of a eunuch exemplifies the latter. We might even say that this too reveals a side of the Fall that should be recognised as such: the misplaced power of some human beings over others.

5. Then finally, we might have a common enough situation from today’s western societies, of a couple’s deliberate use of contraception to not have any children at all. This is their choice, given contemporary technology and perceived social options. However, nothing per se prevents their naturally having children: as many a couple well knows, to contracept is no guarantee of no children; ‘mistakes’ occur!

However, when we ask the simple reason for a same-gendered couple’s infertility the answer is of a different order. No-one ever imagined that two men together or two women together were capable of sexual reproduction; it is a simple, logical, natural impossibility! This contrasts starkly with the various rationales given above. To elide the logic of these two classes of reproductive incapacities is to commit a category mistake, pure and simple.

Added to which, we should point out something else that arises from this distinction. When a same-gendered couple seek to have a child, necessarily they require a third party - and one of the opposite sex. Famously, this was the case with Elton John and David Furnish, as they readily admit. But a series of questions arise: what does this introduction of a third party do to those other ends of marriage, like faithfulness, and unique and specific companionship, let alone the sexual aspect(s)? Sever the natural reciprocity among all the traditional ends of marriage and there emerges a simple imbalance, an inchoate assemblage of the parts, in short, a logical distortion of the picture - no; the Image! - granted us in Genesis 1 & 2.

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Carl, you are of course free to agree with Ephraim Radner's assessment of my work, even without reading it. I'm happy to say that other peer critics, have been much more positive about my work, including the refutation of the assertions made by Gagnon. (These refutations deal with matters of fact, so they are easily checked.) I have also posted an extended response to Ephraim's meandering review, taking up the few specific points he actually makes. But I doubt you will change your thinking on this in spite of any actual evidence brought to bear.

Bryden, I do actually address most of the issues you raise here concerning infertile couples -- including the larger question of what is "natural" or not to a specific couple. (One issue is the tendency to slide from the generic to the specific in this line of argument, and one of my points is that marriage is always specific! It isn't about "categories" but actual couples. It is actually the traditionalists who make the category error when they insist (as some do) that even a permanently infertile couple are still somehow "potentially capable of procreation.")

One point I address in particular is this idea of "assemblage of parts" -- which is, interestingly enough, part of the anti-SSM argument that the couple aren't "complementary." I also raise the issue of the Incarnation itself, in which Joseph plays that "third party" role; and note the very important role that foster-parentage and adoption play in the Jewish and Christian imagery of salvation. Besides the fact, to get back to particulars -- as I think we must -- such a third party is involved in an infertile mixed-sex marriage just as much as a same-sex marriage. A third (or fourth!) person of "the opposite sex" will be required for procreation, Yet these marriages are marriages.

One new thought that your comments raise, however -- and this is why I am glad of continued engagement with people who seek to make intelligent arguments rather than airy dismissals -- is something I would frame this way. Given your linking some instances of infertility with the Fall, don't you find it a bit dissonant to be affirming the right of a couple so "marked" (if you will) with a sign of the Fall to marry, while forbidding it to a couple who are incapable of procreation not due to the Fall but due to their very nature, as you say. Thus it seems to me your point "against" could perhaps be a point "for."

Thanks again for the comments, and I hope you enjoy reading the book when you have the time, and will post comments at the blog devoted to it.

Anonymous said...

I note that Tobias Haller has failed to respond to my claim that, following his own approach, the Bible can easily be made to support polygamy - or even, I would add, consensual adult incest!
Can Tobias honsestly say what is wrong with such incest? I don't think his method allows him to say so at all.
Ephraim Radner is right that Tobias is very selective in what and whom he engages. I haven't read his book but I have read a good number of his blog articles on which I believe the book is based. "reasonable" (logikos) is what God decrees is righteous and in keeping with His Law. Gagnon's biblical scholarship is not to be dismissed in the "ipse dixi" style of an old-style Pravda leader column that too many Episcopal clergy indulge in; it is extremely detailed, broad in scope and has many foundations.

Peter Carrell said...

Without engaging in the question whether I agree or disagree with what Tobias writes, Carl, he does deal with those questions in his book (as I saw when I dipped into it, last night). In today's postings I have included a post which posts links to the site on which Tobias has published the book online.

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Carl, I thought I'd made it clear I didn't think this was the place for an extended discussion on this topc. I've not ignored the topics you've raised, and I've addressed both polygamy and incest in my book. Please don't mark me with "failing" to do something here which I've already done elsewhere, and which is available to you if you really care to engage with it.

As for Gagnon, as I say, I have not utterly dismissed him, but addressed specific, demonstrable weaknesses in his argument, including (what I can only see as deliberate) misrepresentation of the evidence. It is your own writing here that represents the aura of airy dismissal, since you have not actually engaged with what I've written.

Please note that the extant blog articles were very early sketches, extensively revised on the basis of much discussion, including discussion with leading consesrvative authors. I have made every effort to answer every question raised -- and have responded at length to Radner's own assertions (and misrepresentations, including regarding the work of Malina on porneia. It is revealing that Radner has so many complaints about my work that he says it would require point by point response for which there is scarcely time, but then when he chooses to address one issue (relating to Gagnon) misrepresents both Gagnon's position and that of Malina! In addition to not actually addressing the point that I make. Of course, that was a "review" in the popular press. As I note, the reviews in the theological journals (another is due out shortly) are much more professional, and positive.

If, Carl, you are really interested in having an intelligent discussion, I am perfectly willing to do so. But doing so in the comment thread to a post only distantly related to the topic, on someone else's blog, is not the place to do so.I am not avoiding you. You are avoiding me.

Bryden Black said...

Thanks Tobias for engagement as usual, and yes, to make this thread what it was, I shall get back to your own blog space!

As for your last additional, line of discussion prompted by my comments re the Fall: I am on record for many years now (which I doubt you have read) claiming not that same-sex attraction is "natural" but rather is also a consequence, just as "deficient physiology" is a consequence, of the Fall - as are a host of many other phenomena! ALL this BTW as I seek to try to do your actual fuller text justice - eventually ....

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Thank you, Bryden. I would be interested in learning more about your concept of the Fall. I hope you will expand on that, perhaps in relation to my own musings on Genesis in the early chapters of R&H.

Peace to all.