Monday, June 10, 2019

Ecclesia Anglicana: Renewal by gradual reinterpretation? (with a casting of light from EO!!)

Subtitle to the above title is:

"withstanding eccentricity and heresy at the margins without loss of identity",

with title and subtitle drawn from the following response to last week's post by Bowman Walton:

"A: "Six priests were executed: three evangelicals for heresy, and three papalist Catholics for treason." 
In the system of order through terror that monarchs of Henry VIII's time inherited-- be appalled by the opening pages of Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish-- this makes perfect, centrist sense. Marginalise the impossible extremes without hesitation; let your people play on a broad, strong centre, working out their differences as they can.  
A church where every opinion is equally authoritative has never existed, but a church for *consensus-seeking inquiry* with some tolerance for eccentrics is feasible. And an improvement on what many of us see on the ground today. 
B: "...we pride ourselves on the ability to find the via media, the middle way, the compromise between two extremes, which enables us to live together with tension and difference, sometimes even with contradiction, if not happily ever after, then unhappily ever after." 
Yes, but we should stop. The 42A? Gorham? "Ceremonialism?" If this proceduralising truthiness has ever been real-- Virginia was still trying clergy for heresy in the early C20; TEC has recently deposed clergy for believing several old orthodoxies-- we have not seen it lately. Its method has never been usefully formulated. And why, anyway, would a bag of marbles be better than a bunch of grapes? For Anglicans as for everyone else, in is in, out is out.  
C: A more historical view is that the CoE has been graced by a broad traditional centre (eg Jewell and Hooker, the Tudor and Stuart bishops, the episcopate itself), by a prayerbook able to serve as a standard of centrist Western doctrine, and by supreme governors determined to maintain both breadth and continuity. The result has been a tradition of national *pilgrim churches* with broad, resilient centres that is unique in Protestantism. These centres have been renewed by gradual reinterpretation and have withstood eccentricity and heresy at the margins without loss of identity.  
D: In an age of theological ferment, The Integrity of Anglicanism seems most undermined by the lack of a discerning magisterial authority like that which Cranmer and Parker exerted on the BCP and the 10/42/39 Articles. There is no way back to an ABC acting as an English pope, synods are not capable of sorting through ongoing theological debate, and the hazard may be too temporary to warrant the permanent Anglican Inquisition that nobody expects anyway. "

The emboldening of paragraph C is mine. I think this is the money quote. In our current Anglican perambulations, in which schisms and threats of schisms tend to focus our minds on "issues" (because one and only one issue triggers schism or threat of schism), whether or not a "majority" exists here or over there for this or that "view", whether or not "opposing views" may be held simultaneously in this or that church, and then, what power "synods" or "conventions" hold to effect "change", a moment's pause to consider, perhaps better: a long, slow pause, paragraph C might assist Anglican decorum!

That is, what if our focus was more on what it means to (re)find a "broad, traditional centre," "a standard of centrist Western doctrine," leadership (whether civic or ecclesial) which is "determined to maintain both breadth and continuity," and thus an Anglicanism which fosters "a tradition of national *pilgrim churches* with broad, resilient centres", encouraged by recognition that doing this is a unique charism within Protestantism (actually, I think, within all churches).

Thus we could, in this long slow pause, gain a sure and certain hope that our future life and strength as Anglicans is (with slight rewording by me) by gradual reinterpretation which unfolds with (and does not reject or expel) eccentricity and heresy at the margins without loss of [Anglican] identity."

What do you think?

By way of contrast, I want to introduce a few matters - pertinent as I shall try to explain - drawn from my current reading of Paul Ladouceur's Modern Orthodox Theology: Behold I Make All Things New (London, New York, etc: T & T Clark, 2019). This book is an engaging (i.e. makes one think about theology) survey of Eastern Orthodox theologians, theologies, and theological debates over the past few centuries - all the more intriguing because a rough guide to EO theology is that the Fathers sorted all theology centuries ago and there is nothing further to discuss!

(Incidentally, but not part of this post, that different Orthodox theologians and theologies can be surveyed in an interesting manner is triggered by the fact that at various points since the Reformation, EO has strongly entertained, even been educated by Western theologies and Western academies, and the debates surveyed in part represent the phenomenon of Patristic based theologies rising to counter the bad Western influence).

(1) An observation re Anglican theology: p. 49: in respect of a 19th century conversation between an Orthodox theologian and an Anglican theologian, the former, Khomiakov observes:

"Many bishops and divines of your communion are and have been quite orthodox. But what of it? Their opinion is only an individual opinion, it is not the Faith of the Community. Ussher is almost a complete Calvinist; but ye he, no less than those bishops who give expression to Orthodox convictions, belongs to the Anglican Church." [Citing Alexei Khomiakov, "Third Letter to William Palmer," in W. J. Birkbeck, ed., Russia and the English Church during the Last Fifty Years (Londong: Eastern Church Association, 1895), 69-70.]

I suggest C above, in other words, is an appeal for great attention to the "faith of the [sic] Anglican community."

(2) An observation re the merciful, gracious love of God: p. 79, my bold:

Cited from the Autobiographical Notes of Sergius Bulgakov (a noted Russian intellectual from the turn of the 19th/20th centuries, the last Procurator of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church, Minister of Religion in the Provisional Government of 1917, which ended with the October Revolution, and then, in exile in 1919, one of the founders of St Sergius Institute in Paris), is this converting experience of God, during which Bulgakov encounters a spiritual elder:

"A miracle happened to me. I realized it then without any doubt. The Father, seeing his prodigal son, ran to meet me. I heard from the elder that all human sin was like a drop of water in comparison with the ocean of divine love. I left him, pardoned and reconciled, trembling and in tears, feeling myself returned as on wings within the precincts of the church. ... The bells were calling to prayer. I listened to them as if I heard them for the first time in my life, for they invited me also to join the fellowship of believers. I looked on the world with new eyes. The next morning at the Eucharist I knew I was participating in the Covenant, that our Lord hung on the cross and shed his blood for me and because of me; that the most blessed meal was being prepared by the priest for me, and that the gospel narrative about the feast in the house of Simon the leper and about the woman who loved much was addressed personally to me. It was on that day when I partook of the blessed Body and Blood of my Lord." [no specific footnote is given for this, but I think the previous footnote on that page includes the likely reference, in which case it is: "Quoted in Zernon, The Russian Religious Renaissance,  97-8.]

Do we ever read Anglicans these days who give the impression that we understand the extent of the divine mercy in respect of sin?

(3) In our Anglican world, we argue about things such as "authority" and current sexuality debates involve a lot of rational propositions proposed and opposed. One theological development surveyed is "intuitive knowledge" which could be defined as "reflection on personal experience in the light of revelation [as] a door to ascertaining fundamental reality" [p. 100-01]. Offering, in Ladouceur's words, a resolution of the "inherent tension and duality between the knowing subject and the object known" in terms of "love, which alone can unite subject and object in harmony," one such theologian, Berdyaev, writes this thought provoking paragraph, cited on p. 101,:

"Love is recognized as the principle of apprehension; it guarantees the apprehension of truth; love is a source and guarantee of religious truth. Corporate experience of love, sobornost', is the criterion of apprehension. Here we have a principle which is oppose to authority; it is also a method of apprehension which is opposed to the Cartesian cogito ergo sum. It is not I think, but we  think, that is to say, the corporate experience of love things, and it is not thought which proves my existence but will and love. ... Love is the principal source of the knowledge of Christian truth, and the church is a unity of love and freedom." [cited from Nicolas Berdyaev, The Russian Idea (New York: Mcmillan, 1948), 161; 164. PRC: I understand "authority" in the citation to be a critique of Catholic theology and the Cartesian reference to be a implied critique of a rationalist Protestant approach to truth; sobornost' could also be defined as "communion of love."]

There is much to think about here, not least whether this is, so to speak, "too subjective".

But the essence of what Berdyaev proposes is what Bowman Walton proposes above re a broad, consensual centre which does not race to rid itself of eccentricity and heresy, i.e. "the church is a unity of love and freedom."

Further, a church which is a communion of love seeking the truth, engaging its corporate, personal experience with the revelation it speaks to itself (proclaiming Scripture) and hands on to itself  (tradition), is going to be a body in which "gradual reinterpretation" takes place, rather than schism.

Thoughts?

16 comments:

Father Ron said...

Thanks, Peter, for this fulsome and thought-provoking thread. I cannot help thinking that Pope Francis would agree with Berdyaev: that Love is the source of all that is good - the basis of true religion that worships a loving God. In seeking to disperse the authority of the Roman Magisterium, Pope Francis is seeking to rediscover the spirit of truth and love that is at the heart of the Christian religion."Oughts and shoulds" give way to 'The great love of God as revealed in the Son'

Anonymous said...

"These centres have been renewed by gradual reinterpretation and have withstood eccentricity and heresy at the margins without loss of identity."

Long ago, Peter, when we here up yonder were arguing about ecumenical relations, ordaining women, and revising prayerbooks, I was reading the Russian sources of your OP to formulate a less juridical account of authority in the Body. (In an ironic twist on Khomiakov's query to Palmer about Ussher, a Presbyterian minister complained to me back then that although Anglicans have produced great Reformed theologians like Ussher, "you also have all these people who pray to Mary and the dead." Of course, Palmer and his generation of Anglo-Catholics were exploring just such practices, as we see in some touching passages of the letters he exchanged with Khomiakov.) So some resonances of my ecclesiology with theirs are not wholly coincidental.

But those resonances are not enough. Decades of argument, not all of it among Anglicans, have yielded further problems and insights. Offhand, four seem relevant to themes of your OP.

(i) What is it to be, not a confession standing its ground against the wind, but a pilgrim church orienteering with a compass and no map? Over the past century and a half, Anglican schisms here up yonder have arisen as generation after generation of confessionalists have pointed to some shocking change in TEC practice as conclusive evidence that it is no longer the Church of England of Edward VI.

https://youtu.be/SjbPi00k_ME

If that is the charge, then the oldest parishes and dioceses of TEC have been guilty for a bit more than four centuries, of course. But confessionalism has perennial appeal to those who need or want an intelligible way to make sense of authority and to reassure themselves of its faithfulness. If Anglican churches are pilgrims waking in a new town every day then how do we recognise their authority and faithfulness on the road?

(ii) If *in is in* and *out is out*, then what is the *periphery* of eccentrics and heretics? This question is most easily understood by considering the hard lives of any of several Roman Catholics who have been more or less *in* but still *peripheral*-- Henri de Lubac, Simone Weil, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Thomas Merton, Hans Kung, Placide Deseilles, etc. They were theologians; they were loyal Catholics; they influenced some like-minded Catholics. Yet at least for a time, the official centre could not assimilate their ideas into its teaching, and this was usually rather hard for them. Anglican and Orthodox churches have had their own peripheral eccentrics and heretics-- and they too have histories of notable cruelty to many of them. But if love is a mode of apprehending truth within the broad centre, can it fail to recognise the figures-- reactionary, progressive, or visionary-- just outside that circle? Who are they?

Anonymous said...

(iii) From the Augsburg Confession on, Protestant ecclesiology has taken a local catholic subsidiarity as its radical principle. If we still believe this today, how should we be applying it? In the past generation, Anglicans have mainly debated changes of practice rationalised by a duty to adapt to change in their societies. To confessionalists standing their ground as an end in itself, that appeal is often DOA. But pilgrims just as often take it for granted that churches should be intimately enmeshed with the places where they dwell. It would be good to hear more carefully grounded argument from both sides, but this becomes urgent as new bodies propose *dioceses of the holy handgrenade of antioch* that catholic order cannot recognise as churchly.

(iv) Because Anglicans have mainly debated social change in our lifetimes, one could think that *reinterpretation of the centre* has mainly happened because of it. But in fact at least six quieter forces are exerting a steady pressure for change--

(a) the eclipse of the proof text (eg narrative reading, pre-modern hermeneutics),

(b) Eastern critique of Western tradition (eg Romans v 12, Origen's anathema, paleo-orthodoxy),

https://www.firstthings.com/article/2015/10/saint-origen

(c) more comprehensive history suggesting new narratives of identity (eg Palestinian Judaism, Jesus, and St Paul; ecumenical understanding of the C16),

(d) maturity of the human sciences (eg neuroscience, comparative politics, virtue ethics),

(e) canonisation of past fruit of the Holy Spirit (eg William J Abraham's canons).

(f) globalisation of cultural conflicts (eg 15 March 2019, GAFCON, Kaufmann's Whiteshift)

Of course, a similar tour d'horizon for an archbishop in C16 Canterbury might have been no less daunting. But Cranmer had some power and much influence. He could govern his *centre* by translating the liturgy and adapting bits of Continental confessions into English articles of religion. Who can govern the reinterpretation of the Anglican *centre* today?

BW

Peter Carrell said...

Two brief responses, Bowman:
- I really like your point re de Lubac etc and that inter alia makes the point that discerning where the Anglican centre is heading, through 1970s and beyond may take another one to three decades;
- a slight addition to your observation re Cranmer/BCP and the then "centre": (i) there was some enforcement of that centre by the civil authority, not an option today; (ii) Cranmer/BCP centrist influence was "received" (until it wasn't, e.g. 19thC Anglo-Catholicism with its additions and revisionism of meaning.

Thus, question: what centre, whomever and however it might be proposed etc, is receivable by most Anglicans (where "most" might be measure of provinces and not those in pews (= Nigeria always wins!).

Peter Carrell said...

OK, two further responses!
- the Covenant was an attempt to find the centre of late 20/early 21C Anglicanism: it has either failed or it is too early;
- Lambeth 2020, as an iteration of Lambeth 2008, is yet another attempt to find the centre, this time (arguably) "pragmatically" driven more than "theologically" (so, some critics of Welby's explanations re invitations); and much (IMHO) depends on (a) who turns up; (b) what then happens.

Anonymous said...

Peter, I hope that my 7:56 does not distract too many of your readers from the interesting half of your OP on Ladouceur.

For them, I should repeat that the resilient centre from which the Holy Spirit is leading Anglicans at any given time is a discoverable empirical reality that, as you say, is most clearly seen in retrospect. Sometimes the most authoritative description of that centre is seen to have been private (Hooker on the eucharist in the Laws) and sometimes it turns out to have been official (Parker and Convocation on Article XLII). The single theologian who has best represented the Anglican centre in a given time is not always an Anglican (John Calvin, T F Torrance, Robert Jenson). Institutions like the Covenant and the Lambeth Conferences support the work of discovery, but even at their most authentic they rarely give an accurate real-time read-out of What We All Believe Today. But then nobody on earth needs that anyway.

From the Body's own perspective, enforcers from Constantine on have rightly maintained the fence between in and out, and have only wrongly gotten involved in decisions about who or what should be inside it. When a Russian monk on Athos long ago claimed that the most holy name of Jesus was a fourth Person, the Ecumenical Patriarch was too embroiled with the Turks to settle the uproar there for himself, so the Czar dispatched a frigate to the Aegean where the Imperial Russian Navy entered the monastery, seized the monk, threw him in the brig, and steamed back to Russia for trial before the Holy Synod in Moscow.

After reading Ladouceur, do you see the old Anglo-Catholic controversies in the same way? If Khamiakov and the *neo-patristic synthesis* after him are right about Rome and Protestants, then each position implies yet suppresses the other. On the ground, Rome implied yet suppressed Jansenism, and the Reformed implied yet disowned Mercersburg. In the current Orthodox view, an instability at the heart of Western understanding of the Holy Spirit generates an unscriptural oscillation between polarised visions of spiritual authority. So Tract 90, which a confessionalist still takes as a revision of the meaning of the 39A, could reasonably seem to a pilgrim today to be a fuller exposition of what they had implied all along. To the former, it is a scandal of *motivated reasoning*; to the latter, an organic development with parallels in other branches of Protestantism.

"What centre, whomever and however it might be proposed etc, is receivable by most [Anglican churches]?"

Theologically speaking, the centre that an anthropologist would discover in the Communion today is--

Reformational in a way that easily includes Luther and Jenson, Calvin and Barth, but is not confessionally Reformed in any widespread contemporary sense.

Ecumenical in a Lima BEM way that facilitates collaboration with other sorts of Christians in places as different as Boston, Cairo, and Singapore.

Pilgrim and hence somewhat at home in milieus shaped by other religions rather than confessional and hugging lampposts in the windy streets of old Christendom.

"yet another attempt to find the centre, this time (arguably) 'pragmatically' driven more than 'theologically'"

When an ABC does not know who is in and who is out, what else can s/he do? After 2020 there will be a discreet accounting of what so much patient tightrope walking has been worth and to whom. Common sense can be very misleading in the affairs of the Anglican Communion and the Middle East, but I begin to expect that when ++ Justin steps down the music will stop and there may not be chairs for everyone.

The centre has never been lost, but apart from the exogenous challenges listed in my 7:56, there are two endogenous ones to be met--

(v) A broadly credible historical explanation of how the Anglican and Reformed traditions are related yet distinct and in some ways in tension.

(vi) An account of how persons with a Reformed formation and sensibility thrive or not in the mainstreams of Anglican churches.

BW

Peter Carrell said...

Broadly Yes to all that, Bowman.
I am not yet far enough through Ladouceur to firmly answer your specific question A-C things; but I think I am far enough through to wonder if two parallel worlds of theology are the West and the East, and thus differences within one of those worlds, the West, are real differences ...

Father Ron said...

How does all this intellectual cogitation help the mission of Christ in the world?

Anonymous said...

Getting one's bearings can *help* one feed sheep, keep peace, unify the Body, clarify the gospel, and exhibit the kingdom. Conversely, some in the global village who have lost their bearings are for that reason hurting all of these good causes. The ounce of prevention does not please every palate, but it tastes better than the pound of cure.

When the Holy Spirit calls us to some work for the Body in the Father's providence, he does not often tell us what will come of it. And from the merely human perspective, all purposive action has unintended consequences. When we take up sacred things only because we think we have a perfect plan for them we should probably put them back down.

But anyway the most earnestly practical of the Lord's disciples was Judas Iscariot. At Bethany, Jesus said Mary chose the better part, and defended the woman with the alabaster jar.

The play of his children before the throne pleases God because it is prayer. Different children play to pray in different ways-- cathedral-builders carve gargoyles, organists get more pipes, iconographers gild haloes, exegetes ponder texts, etc. Because all play is anticipation and becoming, in this aeon it may be the prayer most like walking the streets of the new Jerusalem in the next.

None of us play well in every way. Nobody has to play in this way who does not want to do so.

BW

Shawn said...

I have some questions about the centre, and I may have to resign myself to the possibility that there are no answers to them, or that the answers lie elsewhere. That said, as far as Anglicanism goes, if the centre is not so strong, and the margins not so narrow, as to exclude someone who has ceased being a happy warrior and become a happy eccentric, then I am happy.

Anonymous said...


"I have some questions about the centre..."

Try posting them after Sunday.

"...as far as Anglicanism goes, if the centre is not so strong, and the margins not so narrow, as to exclude..."

The stronger this centre is, the more inclusive its margin will be. That is why settling for mere pluralism as we used to do * was such a bad bargain for all sides.

* On this, see anything by Oliver O'Donovan on the transformation of Anglican liberalism from being a mediator between parties to being itself a militant party that needs mediation.

BW

Shawn said...

Hi Bowman.

When I said I had questions I did not mean to imply that I was seeking to ask them here on ADU, though I might at some point.

My questions, and concerns, have very little to do with the tired old debate between conservatism, liberalism and centrism. When I said in my first post a few weeks back that I had moved in a more liberal direction I chose my words carefully. It is true, up to a point, specifically on the issues of LGBT people and other religions. I have not however joined the Liberal tribe and I have no intention of doing so. Liberalism, conservatism and canonical theism/centrism, are all seeking answers to the wrong questions, and trying to solve a debate that is no longer relevant in the face of the literal life and death survival issues that the human species is soon going to be confronted with. I can understand, given recent events, arguments and divisions in the Anglican world in general, and specifically here in New Zealand, why the debate still exercises so many Anglican minds, but it seems to me to be the very definition of fiddling while Rome burns.

Liberalism, conservatism and centrism have all passed their used by date. They are 20th century life rafts that are riddled with holes and rapidly taking on water, and none of them is adequate to the task of getting us through the coming storm. In terms of theology, we need an entirely new boat.

Shawn said...

Thinking through the last sentence of my previous post I thought to add something about where we might see the new boat emerging, or at least where I see signs of it. None of these are the whole boat, just potential building materials. One of those is post-liberal/narrative theology, in particular it's rejection of modernity's emphasis on rational propositions and dogmatic statements on "Truth" in favour of Story and storytelling. Another is the postmodern/emergent movement with younger evangelicals, though that seems to have had a fairly short lifespan.

The New Monasticism and contemplative movements are definitely a strong sign of the new boat. Finally, in reference to the coming storm, the creation spirituality advocated by Matthew Fox, Sallie Mcfague (The Body of God) and Mark L. Wallace amongst others is an essential element.

Mark Wallace has written two books on creation spirituality, 'Finding God in the Singing River' and 'When God was a Bird: Christianity, Animism, and the Re-Enchantment of the World' that I am currently reading and strongly recommend.

Like I said none of these alone is the whole boat, but they may be signs of it, or at least signs of where my own thinking and practice is heading.

Anonymous said...

"...the tired old debate between conservatism, liberalism and centrism"

Offhand, Shawn, I don't recall a debate like that, although I am well acquainted with the psychological literature (eg Costa & McCrae, Haidt) on the liberal and conservative temperaments. These patterns of ideation seem to be perennial and universal; in this aeon, they have never not been and they will probably never not be.

If you run across a copy of David Hempton's Evangelical Disenchantment, take a look. It sounds as though you would like it.

https://yalebooks.yale.edu/book/9780300198256/evangelical-disenchantment

BW

Shawn said...

Hi Bowman.

The debate I'm referring to, which in many ways defined the 20th century for Christianity, occurred between conservatives of various stripes, such as the early fundamentalists, evangelicals, traditionalists within the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches, and the liberals, for example those advocating biblical criticism in the German tradition, the Jesus Seminar, John Spong, or NZ's own Loyd Geering, with the centrists taking a via media between the two, one example being Karl Bart and those who followed in his wake. The same debate we are having in NZ now between those who advocate for the full inclusion of LGBT people in the church, those totally opposed, and those taking a middle ground. That debate. I'm not sure how else to describe it.

My personal disenchantment goes much deeper than just a disenchantment with Evangelicalism, it is a disenchantment with "orthodox" Christianity as a whole, and also with certain kinds of liberalism which give far too much authority to the philosophical principles of modernity.

Anonymous said...

Shawn, I think I understand why you put those names in those three columns, but personally I map all that rather differently.

In every major religion, there are figures and movements that are mainly fitting their traditions to their side of the perennial human divides that arise from temperament and tribe. If one is burning for change then Jesus (or Siva) simply has to be a Liberator to have a place in one's mind, but if one is instead seeking an anchor amid the tides, then he (or Visnu) has to be the enforcing Judge instead. That's religion, not theology. Why not just do politics that will make a difference?

Theology, whether the Western scholastic sort, or the Byzantine mystical sort, begins, or at least begins to be interesting, when one has left all that behind.

BW