Monday, November 16, 2020

Across the Tasman, an Appellate Tribunal Decision

IMPORTANT UPDATE: The Australian Bishops have offered a response to the Appellate Tribunal's decision - a model of Anglican balance!! Also note this report from the Diocese of Sydney.

ORIGINAL POST: A few days ago, an Anglican Church of Australia Appellate Tribunal published an opinion (this is the official term) on the matter of a blessing of same-sex marriages proposed by the Diocese of Wangaratta.

The opinion (more precisely, two: 5 for a majority opinion, 1 for a minority opinion) is published here. (Spoiler Alert: it is a lot of reading!)

For a quicker read, here is Muriel Porter's Church Times article, and here is Julia Baird's SMH article.

This is Julia's summary of the decision:

"The issue was a legal one, fundamentally about where the authority lies to make a decision of the kind that would allow a liturgy for the blessing of same-sex couples married under Australian law. Who gets to decide – the individual dioceses, of which there are 23 in Australia – or the national church at its General Synod? The tribunal ruled it was the diocese, because this liturgy was “not inconsistent with the Fundamental Declarations and Ruling Principles” of the Constitution of the Anglican Church of Australia."

Dr Mark Thompson, Moore College, offers his "disappointed" response here. He writes,

"This opinion, if acted upon, may indeed have devastating consequences for the Anglican Church of Australia, as similar decisions have done elsewhere in the world, but it cannot change the revealed will of God. The opinion is deeply wrong because it opens the door for the blessing of behaviour which the Bible clearly says will exclude people from inheriting the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:10). As the Board of Assessors and the House of Bishops made clear, the prohibition of this behaviour is not limited to an isolated passage in the New Testament but is consistent through the entire Bible. God does not change his mind. He does not need to. He has always known the end from the beginning.

Since its release, the Primate of the Anglican Church of Australia, Archbishop Geoff Smith, has described the decision of the Tribunal as ‘an important contribution to the ongoing conversation within the church’. He clearly does not see it as the final word. It is important that only Scripture occupies that place."

There are some points of ecclesiastical frisson here. 

For instance, on the matter of blessings, not that long ago the Australian Bishops (two of whom were on the Tribunal) unanimously ruled against blessings. 

Further, the Australian General Synod when it met a couple of years back censured the Episcopal Church of Scotland for legislating for same-sex marriages.

That is, the opinion of the Tribunal that the Wangaratta decision is not inconsistent with the Constitution is itself not consistent with the Bishops nor with the General Synod.

In other words, as a matter of debate and decision-making for our Across the Tasman Anglican cousins, it looks very much like clarity needs to occur at the General Synod level. That is, clarity over whether or not the opinion about "not inconsistent" with the Constitution becomes canonical fact or not, as applied to the whole of ACA, not only to the Diocese of Wangaratta.

For Kiwi readers, it may be important to note that ACA is not the same as ACANZP constitutionally (for example the former’s constitution gives more power to each diocese than the latter’s constitution does).

My opinion on the formal opinion of the Appellate Tribunal:

1. The majority opinion works very hard, with admirable detail in analysis and reflection on changes through history, on how an Anglican church generally and how the Australian Anglican church specifically, can respond to changes in civil legislation concerning marriage.

2. The minority opinion works very clearly and carefully on a biblical theology of sex and marriage which yields the conclusion that changes to civil legislation on marriage does not overturn a universal ban on same-sex sexual relationships.

3. In important ways, both positions are "honourable." It is appropriate to follow the Bible - Romans 13 and all that - in making accommodation between church and state. It is also appropriate to follow the Bible - Revelation 13 and all that - in resisting the temptation to accommodate changing culture.

4. Thus an obvious challenge for ACA, as it has been for ACANZP, is whether and how both honourable positions might be held within the one church.

5. And, sadly, a salutary warning from the recent history of ACANZP with disaffiliations leading to the formation of CCAANZ, is that (4) may not have a straightforward resolution.

6. There is, nevertheless, a pastoral dimension to the Appellate Tribunal's reports, beyond questions of civil legislation and social change becoming a cultural tide washing over the church. When two Christians of the same sex determine that they wish to live their lives together in a bond of marriage, may the church formally permit freedom for its ministers to follow a pastoral instinct to pray for them?

7. The genius of the Anglican church has been that it has found many ways to permit freedom for its ministers to follow a pastoral instinct!

To all commenters: this post is NOT an opportunity to once again rehearse for/against arguments about homosexuality or same-sex blessings or same-sex marriages. I may not publish your comment if your comment offers such rehearsal. Comments should focus on matters relating to Anglicanism Down Under with special reference to the Anglican Church of Australia - its constitution, its polity, its decision-making, etc.

UPDATE

GAFCON Australia have published a first response to the Appellate opinion, here.

I think the challenging paragraph here is this:

"The teaching of Scripture is that while marriage is not necessary for salvation nor for the experience of life to the full, obedience to God’s Word is.  The Lord brings about in us what he commands, whatever our marital status or sexuality. The gift of marriage, in accordance with the doctrine of Christ as it is clearly taught in Scripture and expressed in the Book of Common Prayer is ‘an honourable estate’ given for the union of one man to one woman for, among other purposes, the raising of children.  Likewise, those who are not married, through their union with Christ, are holy and called to lives of chastity and fruitful, joyful service of the Lord."

A challenge is that this statement simply avoids tackling the otherwise "clear" (but seemingly difficult to actually follow) teaching of Scripture on divorce and remarriage (especially our Lord's own teaching). 

Thus a further challenge is that this paragraph assumes that Scripture teaches "clearly" on matters that, in fact, churches find less than clear when it comes to engagement with the circumstances of real life.

30 comments:

Father Ron said...

It would seem, Bishop Peter, that ACANZP has had some influence in this decision of the Provincial Anglican Church in Australia's decision to allow for individual dioceses in that Church to authorise the Blessing of Same-sex partners who have particiapted in a legal civil marriage ceremony.

Despite the protests of the bishops of Sydney and Tasmania, who were present in Christchurch, New Zealand, for the ordination of a GAFCON/FOCANZ bishop to safeguard Sydney's view on this important issue in our churches; it would seem that most Australian Anglicans - clergy and people - recognise the need to accommodate the need of the Church to step up to the plate in pastoring members of the Church whose gender/sexual identity is different from thre binary 'norm'.

The reaction of Moore College (which upholds a very conservative culture of opposition to LGBTQ relationships) was predicatable in the circumstances How long Moore can continue in their Con/Evo stance is open to conjecture.

Anonymous said...

Consider I Samuel viii.

For the Lord's sake, Israel has followed Samuel into his old age. But rather than likewise follow his sons, the people instead ask for a king. Other nations have kings and they want to have one too.

God thinks that monarchy is a terrible idea. He sends Samuel back to the people with a thorough critique of monarchy. But they are unpersuaded.

God relents. He tells Samuel to give Israel a king.

Samuel gives Israel Saul. But in giving them monarchy, he also gives them David and the Davidic tradition, from which much came.

Who have ears to hear, let them hear.

BW

Jonathan said...

I am assuming, Bowman, much good and much bad... and in the case of Samuel's sons there would have been much bad and perhaps eventually some good... My thoughts are that progressives and traditionalists largely speak to their own people group (and to any who are willing to follow whatever the church of their location decides) and this GAFCON response is an example of this. Such language is of little help for those attempting the task of being "always reforming" and sifting cultural accommodation from scriptural faithfulness (evidenced on multiple issues through the ages as well as the issue you have pointed out, Bp Peter). GAFCON's comment on what is "clear" refers, I am sure, to what is clear to most denominations across most periods of church history. It is when there is a trajectory to less agreement across congregations, denominations, or strands of Christian spirituality, that things and language "hots up". At any rate I will be reading with interest the Living in Love and Faith resources from the C of E (I have only read mixed reviews so far).

Anonymous said...

That Topic is three questions, and it may be that churches should not answer all at the same level.

How should a given church respond to an act of state that is more or less contrary to the ethos of Christendom? We happen to be discussing homosexuality, but the question is also posed when governments take up euthanasia, legal prostitution, etc. With respect to SSM, ACANZP (and TEC) evaded the question: how far can a Christian believe that a marriage law from Parliament (or the SCOTUS) reflects God's will for secular civil society?

What is a given church-- the Body in a particular place-- doing in Christ when it somehow acknowledges a civil union of persons of the same sex? Some believe that they can look up an answer to this in the Bible. Others disbelieve any answer that ignores evidence for the said church's own positive intention. In real life, such intentions are more subtle and nuanced than happy warriors can imagine. Anglicans know that churches cannot be intending a new sacrament-- even ordinary solemnisations are not that-- but such an act is not without meaning in the church's relationship to God.

How is a bishop (or delegate) to decide the case of a Christian who seeks his church's recognition of a civil union? Happy warriors at both extremes speak as though one grand opinion sweeps all LGTBQ etc cases into the same dustpan. But in practice, that would be empirically absurd and pastorally cruel.

A province that does not answer the first question is possibly not being a national church. Because solemnisation is not a sacrament, the meaning of blessing a civil union is something constructed and revised from local experience. There is no definitive answer to the unfashionable last question, but many answers can be helpful.

BW

Father Ron said...

I am intrigued, Bishop Peter, by a response to the recent C. of E. document - "Living in Love and Faith" (LLF) - by Professor Diarmaid McCulloch, which includes this paragraph on the institution of 'Christian' marriage by the Church, a situation that was considered a secular matter hitherto:

"Now here is the biggest howling silence in the whole text of LLF. Nowhere would its readership learn that the Early Church, such a touchstone for LLF’s discussion, never associated marriage with any ceremony celebrated in church. There was no such thing as a church wedding in the Western Church until the tenth or eleventh centuries. It took a twelfth-century revolution in ecclesiastical reorganisation from Rome before it became the norm for folk to get married in church. That is rather an important fact to omit from historical discussion, one might think – and one that puts into perspective present anguished debates in the Church as to whether same-sex couples should get married in churches. It could suggest that the precipitate fall in church weddings that we are witnessing in this country is actually a return to a norm in Christian history.

I wonder what you and your readers think about this? And should it have any affect at all on the current dilemma about 'Same-Sex Marriage?

Father Ron said...

continued:
apropos my previous comment; Prof. McCulloch response to LLF deserves further inspectionto discover his comments on how biblical texts are sometimes mis-interpeted, seemingly in order to maintain the staus quo on matters of sex in the Bible.

Peter Carrell said...

Thanks All for thoughtful and thought provoking comments/questions, the responses to which (whether here or in the citadels of ecclesiastical decision-making) could take the church deeper into its role as the Body of Christ on earth.

On LLF and MacCulloch, there may yet be an ADU post ...

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Jonathan, for your thoughtful reply to my 7:31. I Samuel viii is one of those chapters like St Mark vii that tip over the chessboard on which the usual two sides are moving their pieces.

God's ultimate purpose for Israel depended on the maintenance in the Land of a certain ethos. Yet it is hard to think of anything that could put that ethos in greater jeopardy than a leap from being a loose confederation of tribes following men of YHWH to becoming a typical royal state warring with others in the ancient Near East.

Just stop a moment and ask yourself: where in Israel's prior history was there anything at all to support an idea like that? The recorded traditions of Israel's origin all differentiate the family of Abraham from neighbors that are strange and immoral. Indeed, the familial relations that bound individuals to households, clans, tribes, and the whole could only have been shaped, not by an all too human bureaucracy, but by charismatic men of YHWH whose authority was provisional and personal yet divine. In the horizon of the chronicler, what will become of God's promise to bless Abraham's family if he allows it to be regimented into a centralised state (cf Babel!).

In fact, the chronicler has an interesting tension of loyalties: he is gathering and editing this old tradition against monarchy as an agent of the very regime that YHWH has warned against. It is much better to hear sacred stories with others than to ponder them alone in a tower someplace. Who in Israel's lively oral culture would bother to do the work of recording these recitations? The archival impulse that brought us this chapter challenging royal rule is itself a product of that rule.

Jews see more clearly than most Christians and especially some Christians that YHWH's relationship with Israel was a dialogue with a fallible but blessed partner. Even when his partner was probably disastrously wrong, he honored Israel's emergent unity. And because he was the Creator, his resourceful providence-- creating, sustaining, and governing-- could subsume Israel's choices into his own improvised plans.

BW


Anonymous said...

Yes, Father Ron. Diarmid MacCulloch is right on the facts, and right too that it is a howler for either side not to acknowledge them in speaking about weddings to, or purportedly for, the Body. If it is important that reports be credible, then people ignorant of the history of their topics should not write them.

My only quibble is that because MacCulloch spoke of the origin of church-weddings in the West, a reader could think that they began there with some lofty religious motivation. In fact, they began in about AD 912 in Byzantium as a mere byproduct of a court reform begun by Basil I and completed by Leo VI.

To reduce the case-load of the courts, these emperors dumped the administration of CIVIL matrimonial law on local bishops. Since marriage according to that ancient law of the Romans was contracted before a judge, the reform required marrying couples to contract their unions before a bishop or his delegate standing in for the judge. Which is to say that it required the said clergy to marry anyone eligible to marry under the Twelve Tables etc.

In Rome, divorced persons had always been eligible to marry. So, Father Ron, if you had been a priest in the East back then, you might have admonished a notorious adulterer in 911, only to be legally obliged to marry him to his mistress in 912. Scenarios like that one led the Byzantine clergy to make all second weddings penitential rather than celebrative, and began a debate that continues to this day over how many times a Christian may remarry in Orthodoxy.

BW

Father Ron said...

Thanks, Bowman for your enlightening contributions to this thread.

Interestingly, the Orthodox (excepting some who are part of the R.C. family of Churches) require every one of the parochial clergy to be married. Celibates (expect for the bishops, apparently) are part of the monastic communities. This is very different from the Roman model, which - apart from Pope Benedicts's provision for married clergy in the 'Ordinariates', which caters for ex-Anglican clergy, some of whom are actually married.

SO - very different models of marriage/celibacy requirements for different Christian communities. This speaks of a plurality in the issue of sexual 'purity' as a requirement (or not) of the Christian priesthood! Obviously not all Christians are bound by the biblical injunction to 'increase and multiply' - a factor that allows us to question the universality of heterosexual relationships as the biblical 'norm'! (of course, Jesus happens to recognise this in his under-appreciated discourse on 'eunuchs', in Mathew 19:12 - especially his categorisation of those 'from their mother's womb').

Another thing about Prof. Diarmaid MacCulloch's response to LLF was his reference to certain infelicitous 'interpretations' of the actual Hebrew text in different version of the Bible - especially refering to the love between David and Jonathon, cited as "exceeding that of love for women" (2 Sam.26).

Anonymous said...

"Should it have any effect at all on the current dilemma about Same-Sex Marriage?"

Understanding the origin of weddings, we see that the site of this debate has been, not Christianity but Christendom, not the scriptures of Jesus-in-Israel but a papal tradition of the second millennium. The stakes are much lower than either of the usual sides admits.

In the first millennium, churches engaged marriage, not as a ritual, but as a condition of life that should take a certain shape in Christ (cf Article XXV). Today as then, our thinking about civil unions (whether MWM or SSM) is more apostolic as our reflection on Jesus shows us more about how souls in them may draw closer to the Lord.

On the verge of the second millennium, an imperial decree occasioned what we know today as a wedding: a cleric administering a transaction that recognises a couple in behalf of the state. Since weddings never have been heaven-sent sacraments (cf Article XXV), same sex couples today do not need SSB as a sort of sugar pill placebo for them. Meanwhile, the civil origin of weddings presses opponents of SSM to explain with useful precision why secular states should deny SSM to their citizens, and what churches should do when lawfully united same-sex couples want to join them.

Of course, every human society informally acknowledges new households. It is grotesque when the Body does not also do so in organic ways that make local, human, and Christian sense. In Jesus's own milieu, as in most societies around the globe, these pairings were celebrated by families. In societies like ours, perhaps it best fits our faith for congregations to do likewise.

BW

Anonymous said...

"Orthodox (excepting some who are part of the R.C. family of Churches) require every one of the parochial clergy to be married. Celibates (except for the bishops, apparently) are part of the monastic communities."

Thank you for your interest, Father Ron.

Orthodox practice more often follows revered models than rules. May I restate this?

Among the parochial clergy, a priest (presbyter) oversees his parish, but its women will for many purposes consult his wife (presbytera). To perform that role, she should ideally be the daughter of a priest, and her mother should herself be the daughter of a priest. As you can imagine, it is normal for the daughter of a priest to expect that she will marry one, and perhaps attend seminary herself to prepare for that role and meet her husband. Less obviously, much Orthodox practice is transmitted through the presbytera to the women (especially grandmothers) who teach the faith to husbands and children.

As the Greeks can read in the original language, I Timothy iii 2 advises that a bishop be the husband of one wife. That was the norm in the East until the Mongol invaders of the C13 swept across Asia sacking the cathedrals and slaughtering the higher clergy. Into the vacuum stepped the surviving monk-bishops who thereafter sought to rebuild with able, literate successors from the monasteries. This set new expectations for the learning and spirituality of bishops, and incidentally gave the late Byzantine ordo much of its monastic flavour. Although there is no Orthodox canon that requires that a bishop be either monastic or celibate, succession planning normally ensures that future bishop has a thorough monastic formation. Where this is not possible-- I am thinking of a few American bishops-- tonsure as a monk will nonetheless precede episcopal consecration.

BW

Anonymous said...

"So - very different models of marriage/celibacy requirements for different Christian communities."

Father Ron, the main difference that I have heard is in the spiritualities within which celibacy is practised.

The Orthodox are mining the Philokalia to heal the passions through the lifespan to be changed from glory into glory on their way to the uncreated Light. Sailing back to Byzantium for a moment, the main tradition of the East views the decline of sexual desire through the lifespan as a positive blessing intended by God.

Rediscovering Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange and savoring the devotional writing of Benedict XVI, Communio Catholics are engaging in penance to root out sin and make way for infused grace. This is the vertical spirituality of Roman Catholics who flourish amid stable authority.

Meanwhile, Concilium Catholics are trying to be authentic with Thomas Merton, creation-centred with Matthew Fox, loved and empathic with Henri Nouwen, contemplative with Thomas Keating, and more creation-centered with Richard Rohr. This is the diagonal spirituality of Roman Catholics who seek a conscious transformation of the self.

"This speaks of a plurality in the sexual 'purity' required (or not) of the Christian priesthood!"

The concept *purity* is more pagan than Judaic. But perhaps you have a special meaning in mind?

"Obviously not all Christians are bound by the biblical injunction to 'increase and multiply'"

True. Jesus did not, and neither did St Paul.

"- a factor that allows us to question the universality of heterosexual relationships as the biblical 'norm'!"

Actually, it allows us to deny the universality of sexual relationships. But if one is heterosexual, a pattern for living that virtuously in God's providence unfolds through the Bible.

Your rejection of procrustean norms is obliquely addressed in Job xl 1 to xlii 5 where the Voice from the whirlwind challenges Job's certitude about justice. Rejoicing in his terrifying creations Leviathan and Behemoth, the Creator denies that Job or any of us can fully understand what he makes or why he does it. Faith can be confident, but if it is faith in YHWH, it is open to his wild freedom to surprise.

https://tinyurl.com/yxcd3gqz

https://tinyurl.com/y2p88spo

BW

Andrew Reid said...

Hi Peter,

A couple of brief comments on the Appellate Tribunal's decision.

One of the key points in this decision is on the definition of doctrine. In taking a narrow view of doctrine, I'm a bit concerned that the majority opinion opens us up to a range of other changes to traditional Anglican faith on the grounds that it isn't necessary to salvation. Perhaps I'm being a bit crude in my summary description and I'm honestly trying to be fair while also brief. But if you take that approach, why couldn't individual dioceses decide to introduce liturgies to bless lying, idleness or greed - entirely legal practices but which the church has taught violate Scripture, even if they aren't part of our doctrine of salvation.

On General Synod 2021, at least this will give the whole church the opportunity to have the debate in the open and come to its own decision. In a couple of cases, e.g. women bishops, the Appellate Tribunal has found ingenious ways to bypass decisions of General Synod. As you note, the looser structure of Australian Anglicanism has allowed for different views to co-exist more happily than elsewhere. The concern here is that the dioceses in question may now seek to move ahead without waiting for General Synod. Another quirk of Australian Anglicanism is that the role of the Appellate Tribunal is disputed. Those who win usually see its decisions as deutero-canonical. Those who lose see them as advisory only.

I think your point about pastoral instinct is a little misleading. This decision was not about pastoral prayer, no one opposes praying for same sex married couples. The issue is using a formal liturgy that blesses the marriage. Those of us who do not support same-sex blessings would see that as changing doctrine through facts on the ground, even if the official doctrine is unchanged.

Andrew

Liturgy said...

A brilliant thread of comments, thanks Fr Ron & Bowden (& of course, Peter). Bowden - do you have a website(s) or book(s) that bring your points together?

Blessings

Bosco
www.liturgy.co.nz

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Andrew
Two responses:
1. (admittedly a much larger subject than these few sentences can properly cover ...) I see the Appellate decision as offering guidance within the area of doctrine of relationships, with special reference to marriage, and with special reference to marriage, the decision surveys various ways in which the church through history has adapted liturgically/doctrinally to changes in civil marriage law. Within that subject and with a continuing the spirit of openness to adaptation as society changes its understanding of marriage, the Appellate's majority decision is offered. I think it is stretching things to say that some way forward is thereby charted to (e.g.) a liturgical blessing of greed.

The doctrinal difference between the majority and minority views (it seems to me) effectively pares down to whether Scripture directly teaches against the possibility of formal acceptance via blessing of a civil marriage contracted between two people otherwise unable to enter into a marriage that Scripture does say something about (marriage between a man and a woman) or Scripture indirectly teaches against such a possibility because when it does speak about sex between people of the same sex it speaks with negativity/prohibition. The majority position is that Scripture does not discuss the possibility of same-sex marriage; the minority position is that Scripture has ruled out the possibility of same-sex marriage.

Potentially the ACA General Synod could favour the majority position or the minority position of the Tribunal OR determine that there is sufficient ambiguity in the situation civil society and the church face in Australia such that a plurality of doctrinal understanding can be held within the church [more or less the ACANZP approach].

2. Perhaps much depends on whether the liturgy of blessing constitutes a change of doctrine or a possibility within doctrine (per 1 above). In our church, maybe other Anglican churches, there are liturgies formulated for Harvest Thanksgiving, for Blessing Fishing Fleets, for Blessing Troops going to War, etc, all of which generate points of discussion (some of which, militarism v pacificism, for instance) are very intense, but do not necessarily become facts on the ground changing doctrine ...

Father Ron said...

Thanks, Bowman, for your clear demonstration of Byzantine Orthodox Traditions regarding marriage and celibacy for the ordained - which is very different from the Western, Roman Catholic Tradition, which has to take acount of the fact that even the Apostle Peter was married, with a biblical reference to his mother-in-law being 'in bed with a fever'.

However, I find Andrew Reid's comment, speaking of 'clear' teaching about marriage and sexuality in the Bible, to be a little misleading. This is one subject on which Prof. Diarmaid MacCulloch (a Church Historian) issues his challenge - in his response to LLF, mentioned above. If there were one, single clear message about such things, then why are different branches of the Church Universal still arguing about these issues?

I would also ask Andrew whether, in his opnion, the Sydney Diocese has any particular proscription against divorced people being ministered to in the diocese - this being one of the matters actually mentioned by Jesus in the New Testament. If this is so, then is this one of the areas where scripture is at all 'unclear' on a matter of faith and morals?

Anonymous said...

"...why couldn't individual dioceses decide to introduce liturgies to bless lying, idleness or greed...?"

"I think it is stretching things to say that some way forward is thereby charted to (e.g.) a liturgical blessing of greed."

The Anglican stand-off over SSM often reminds me of the Catholic stand-off over Vatican II that played out in the Washington of my tender years. One fine Palm Sunday, some of my classmates heard a priest celebrate a forbidden Tridentine mass in Latin, while others saw one dressed as Fidel and driving a Jeep up the aisle to the altar.

At bottom, the tension was and still is between two unconscious temperaments. Some families-- even whole locales-- feel cold to any faith that is not authoritarian, absolute, and unchanging. Others constitutionally require one in which they are servants no longer but friends who know what their Master is about.

As the old French *directeurs spirituels* had pointed out decades before, souls of differing *attraits* live in one household of faith, but search its cupboards with different appetites. They do not fully understand each other because as yet they cannot. If they could, they would be saints or madmen.

So as bishops and priests began to implement their understandings of the council decrees, this rift in the bedrock turned myriad activities of Catholic parish life-- confessions, rosary meetings, benedictions of the blessed sacrament, etc-- into signs of silent but embattled allegiances. The two adjacent dioceses of Arlington and Richmond seemed like two not quite adjacent religions.

There were also new activities, unthinkable just a few years before. The parents of a Catholic girl I was dating invited me to their church for a weekly discussion of Albert North Whitehead's Process and Reality. It supplied, they said, a metaphysical basis for Joseph Fletcher's Situation Ethics. Meanwhile, parents of my Catholic debate partner were among the first to begin agitating against the Supreme Court decision that legalised most abortion in the US. If we do not stop the murders, they said, then all morality will break down. I was so intrigued by these tensions among people I rather liked that I went to Catholic University to hear a lecture on them given by a visiting German prelate named Joseph Ratzinger.

Because the major religious orders have houses there, the audience not only had men in clericals, but also nuns in everything. There were nuns in habits. There were nuns wearing wimples over modest dresses. There were nuns in pants with wedding bands. There was even a nun who asked me out.

Those were the early years when each of the two sides was confident that it would prevail over all resistance. That is, all of those parents I just mentioned knew that not all Catholics agreed with them, but they still assumed that eventually everyone would. They had no idea that they were living the crystalisation of the rival sides that we see in American Catholicism today. Still pondering the student protests that turned him from his youthful liberalism, Ratzinger himself felt that, as bishops croziered in the extremes, the centre here would hold.

Anonymous said...

But no-- until recently, eight Catholic members of that same Supreme Court were voting 4-4 on nearly every case Americans have cared about. After half a century, the RCC here has what one is tempted to call *two integrities*. They do get along somewhat better than TEC and ACNA, but they are as balkanized as the CoE.

Watching all this, Protestants used to opine that John XXIII's mistake was in calling a grand council to update everything all at once and from the top down. Rolling out the changes one at a time, making them gradual, making them local-- that way would have been easier on Catholics, people said. Then TEC's leaders wanted a new prayerbook, and women clergy, and gay clergy, and new canons, and gay marriage, and maybe another new prayerbook, and all the old churches, and who knows what next. One at a time, gradual, and local has not been so tranquil either.

That Topic has simmered or boiled for as long as the struggles around Vatican II did. It raises many of the same hard questions at the boundary of the same two poles, the same two *attraits*.

Personally, I have found so few rules in the NT that my practice has been centered in the Sermon on the Mount, the Pauline virtues and vices, living out one's election and call under providence, and praying the Psalms. I found Joseph Fletcher's Situation Ethics thin and flimsy half a century ago, but I can understand why my old girlfriend's parents were relieved to discover that discipleship was not just rules, but *metanoia*.

That said, every culture has its authoritarians; there will always be Anglicans with that spiritual *attrait*. They seldom know why they are so consoled by their vision of Objective Rules shining in a cold night sky, or so frightened by stars shooting across it, but nobody will talk them out of bolting their furniture to the floor. They are who they are; they are part of who we are.

Any deep tradition is a unity of these same opposites, and its identity depends on its grasp of both of its poles. Again, if our individual selves could fully understand both, we would be saints or madmen or possibly both. Joseph Ratzinger, having been at one pole, switched to the other, then triangulated between them as inquisitor and pope. Even without such odysseys, we could all be less bull-headed and one-sided, more empathic for and curious about the other pole.

When Jesus comes to judge the quick and the dead, he will find us in a *coincidentia oppositorum* of devotions. Our duty, perhaps even our mission, is to care as much about our mutual coincidence as we now do about our mutual opposition.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unity_of_opposites

BW

Peter Carrell said...

Dear Bowman,
With deep appreciation for the substance of your two most recent comments I feel emboldened nevertheless to ask - if you are willing - for a little more about the story which begins, and I quote,

"There was even a nun who asked me out."

:)

Anonymous said...

Welcome back, Andrew.

From here up yonder, the working model of biblical authority in your church appears to be--

(a) The recognised Anglican formularies are faultless guides to holy writ.

(b) They are followed, not *insofar as* they are correct, but *because* they are correct.

(c) It is proper and safe to fit one's reading of the scriptures to the commonly accepted understanding of the formularies.

(d) Interpretations of the scriptures not in the formularies have no authority in your church. They may be believed; they may not be officially taught.

(e) Doctrine is authorised only in the formularies.

(f) To adopt a new understanding of the scriptures, a new formulary must be adopted by the church.

(g) The scriptures are the source and norm of the formularies, but the former are only taught in agreement with the latter.

Could you confirm, deny, or correct this for me?

Bowman Walton

Anonymous said...

Welcome back, Bosco.

"Do you have a website(s) or book(s) that brings your points together?"

No. I do try in various ways to point + Peter's readers toward sources that I have found helpful in the course of learning to think comparatively and ecumenically.

Most of these ideas drive characters or situations in my screenplays. Some have appeared in my private comments on books, papers, or committee reports.

I am not opposed to blogging or book-writing for the public, but it is not easy to anticipate a readership for ideas that draw from such different fields.

Thank you for your interest, and for your own enjoyable blog.

Bowman Walton

Anonymous said...

...a little more about the story which begins... "There was even a nun who asked me out."

Peter, the story really begins with a search in the Washington phone book. I was skimming the listings under Institute when I serendipitously found an entry for the Institute for Carmelite Studies. Intrigued, I called them, said something about myself, and asked them to send me a brochure on what they did there.

An envelope arrived. It had no brochure-- the Institute was seldom asked for one-- but a letter dutifully described their research on saints with a Carmelite spirituality. And it notified me that a free copy of The Collected Works of St John of the Cross was waiting for me in The Newman Bookstore off Michigan Avenue on 8th Street.

8th Street? The Washington Post explains well the milieu I found.

https://tinyurl.com/yxakatul

I showed my letter to someone who looked like a manager, and he summoned a tall, wiry woman nearby who was wearing a dress that seemed to go on forever. Making many hand gestures, he told her to fetch the book from the hold shelf, carry it to the register, ring it up with a certain key, place the book in a bag, fold and staple the bag with a flyer, place it in my hand, and file the receipt. (He would have told a millipede how to walk, foot by foot.) She peered at me through glasses atop a turtleneck collar, then left on her errand.

The store was astonishing. A huge bulletin board was covered with pinned up flyers for conferences, lectures, seminars. One announced that the Archbishop of Mainz would be speaking in about an hour.

Protestant systematics was only a sideline, but there were two aisles of it, all the names I was used to seeing in footnotes. Karl Barth was represented by every volume, not only of the Church Dogmatics but of the Kirchliche Dogmatik too. In irony, triumph, or defeat, the collected works of Martin Luther were also there in the Weimarer Ausgabe. Near that, the first books I had ever seen by someone named Robert W Jenson.

Still, it was a Catholic bookstore-- an aisle of chant and liturgics (including all editions of The Book of Common Prayer), two aisles of mostly Continental philosophy, and three aisles of Catholic theologians from St Thomas Aquinas to Hans Kung.

Perhaps because the Paulist Fathers owned the building, there were copies of each of their Great Works of Western Spirituality series. These, in fact, were the books nearest to a pot of free coffee and comfortable chairs. I had poured myself a cup and relaxed with a copy of Julian of Norwich's Showings when I noticed the wiry clerk reading over my shoulder.

Anonymous said...

"What do you know about Julian of Norwich?," she asked.

"She turned thirty and dreamed that she was being crucified. I suppose that happens."

"I have your book at the register." It sounded curt, but the right side of her mouth curled up a bit.

"Why did the Carmelites give you a free copy of this?"

"They didn't have a brochure."

"Very funny. Seriously-- why did they give you a free copy?"

"It's a miracle. They knew that I needed it to verify what Garrigou-Lagrange says that St John says about the onset of the dark night."

"What does St John say?"

"I don't know; you haven't given me the book yet."

"Well, what does Garrigou-Lagrange say?"

"That the Holy Spirit withdraws the consolations that are so abundant in early contemplation so that the soul has to persevere without them, animated only by its innate predisposition to God."

"What is there to verify?"

"Dante does not experience anything like that in the Paradiso, yet he too has a Thomist interpretation of contemplation. Who's right?"

"Garrigou-Lagrange was a better philosopher."

"But Dante was a visionary contemplative. Who's right?"

I wanted the Showings, so she rang up the book, and bagged Blessed Julian along with St John.

"Are you in a hurry?"

"Yes, I have to find a lecture that starts in fifteen minutes." I pointed at the flyer.

"I'll show you." So curt about everything.

She shouted something to the millipede trainer, threw on a poncho and started making long strides to the door.

We arrived in time. She saw friends in the audience and sat with them. I found an open seat close to the front. When one is listening to a soft-spoken Bavarian, this is a blessing.

After the lecture, I retraced my path from the store so that I could find the car I parked nearby. Approaching that, I heard a familiar clop clop clop.

"I need to see your receipt."

I was still carrying the two books, so I reached into the bag and took out a receipt. As I read Coll Works SJohnCross, she read my face.

"Give me my receipt, and I'll go get yours." By the time I realized that I did not want my receipt, the glass door was closing behind her.

Through it, I saw her say something to Mr Millipede, who was again gesticulating as she pulled open a drawer, and presumably switched receipts. Then she picked up the phone, and dialed it, looking back at me through the glass. She laughed, said a little, heard a little, and hung up.

She put my receipt in my palm. "Have you been to the Franciscan House of Studies? Have you been to one of their wine tastings? It's late, but not too late for us to get in."

BW

Father Ron said...

Bowman, your experience in your last post sounds very ecumenical.

Anonymous said...

Yes, Father Ron, both kinds of Catholics, consolidating Communio and progressive Concilium, happily sipped coffee and browsed the old Newman Bookstore. And the celebrated winecellar of the Franciscans brought even Jesuits and Dominicans into the same cheerful company ;-)

BW

Anonymous said...

And so, Peter, two identities were mistaken.

She reasonably thought that anyone getting free critical editions from the Carmelites in a university and store that catered to RC religious was some kind of priest or monk.

And I correctly assumed that she was a student with a side-job selling books, but did not infer from this that she was almost certainly a nun.

Eventually, we figured it out.

BW

Peter Carrell said...

Dear Bowman,
What a delightful story!
I feel a novel coming on ... co-written by Jane Austin and Graham Greene
:)

Anonymous said...

Speaking of stories, Peter, your thoughtful readers may wish to ponder a paradox--

The doctrine of Providence is rare in preaching today. It is often thought to be antithetical to the modern ideal of the *self-authored* life. Yet the most original of the Body's saints from Mary on have believed it.

Why then do we ignore Providence or quibble about it?

BW

Anonymous said...

Postscript-- There is a proposition obliquely related to the paradox--

In reading scripture, our relation to the authors is not that they and we are subjects of the same law of Christendom, but rather that they and we are living under the Providence of the self-revealed Creator according to the knowledge that we have of him.

BW