Monday, August 29, 2022

Orthodox generosity?

Nota bene: the purpose of this post is to reflect a little on the general question of "generous orthodoxy." There is no intention in this post of continuing the past few posts re the Anglican Communion in the light of the Lambeth Conference 2022 - posts which, in a sense, have asked the question, how generous is the orthodoxy of the Anglican Communion. Commenters are free, of course, to make links to the state of the Communion, but I am not intending to generate further such discussion via this post.

Introduction

Back in the day (2006), North American Christian theological thinker and influencer, Brian McLaren wrote A Generous Orthodoxy: Why I am a missional, evangelical, post/protestant, liberal/conservative, biblical, charismatic/contemplative, ... emergent, unfinished Christian which made quite an impact (including his being invited to speak at the Lambeth Conference 2008). 

I think it might be fair to say that many orthodox Christians responses and reviews could be summed up as, 

"Perhaps too generous." 

That is, too many views along too wide a range of Christian diversity got included in McLaren's generous understanding of orthodoxy for every reader's comfort.

This year at Lambeth Conference 2022 it was both good to meet up again with Bishop Graham Tomlin and to buy his latest book, Navigating a World of Grace: The Promise of Generous Orthodoxy (itself a companion book to a denser theological work, which Graham has edited with Nathan Eddy, called The Bond of Peace: Exploring Generous Orthodoxy, featuring essays by an array of distinguished theologians).

How might the present and future responses and reviews of +Graham's book be summed up? My prediction is something like this:

"Perhaps just the right amount of generosity."

I say that because the strength of this book is its resolute sticking to, and continuing affirmation of the Nicene Creed. Or, put another way, this book is an exposition of the Nicene Creed, not a deconstruction of it, and the exposition explores and highlights the ways in which the tight, disciplined statements in the creed actually express the boundless love of God, the wide and deep work of the Spirit throughout creation, and the fulfilling, fruitful implications of the Trinity for the spirituality and sociality of humanity.

It is worth noting, further, that this book, in a very clear, readable manner is an effective "systematic theology" in a relatively few pages (170), compared to the tomes of our friends, Aquinas, Calvin, Luther, Barth, Jenson and so on! 

Also worth citing is Tom Holland's (author of Dominion, not the Spiderman actor) observation in a promotional blurb on the back cover that,

"this is a book that achieves what even many Christians may find a startling feat: a demonstration that orthodoxy is far more radical and interesting a concept than heresy."

As Bishop Graham unpacks the words of the creed he opens up the generosity of the God detailed in the propositions of the creed. Our eyes are opened to the grace and love of God who has created us and redeemed us. By the end, our hearts are challenged to ourselves be generous people of God.

"The heart of orthodoxy is the overflowing generosity and grace of God and its goal is the formation of generous people." (p. 154)

I commend this book to ADU readers. 

53 comments:

Anonymous said...

I have no quarrel with the creeds. Or indeed the seven ecumenical councils. I am cheerfully dogmatic.

But I am using these books to sort out who is networking around the word *orthodoxy*, and why, and why now.

Many have called for a certain consolidation. But some have leaned more to the doctrinal side of that, whilst others, including myself, have leaned more to the ecclesial side.

I don't meet Anglicans who think that there are five gods; I do meet Anglicans who have little sense of the inner lives of churches or souls. They are not thinking so much in heresy as in worldly agitprop.

They need a sense of where the world stops and the church begins.
A hedge. If they can learn to respect that, then they will be less distracted from the creeds.

BW

Mark Murphy said...

Rubber meets the road: what would a generous orthodoxy say or better do with

1. That Topic?
2. Parallel neo-Calvinistic Anglican dioceses set up in Anglicanlands?

Mark Murphy said...

"I do meet Anglicans who have little sense of the inner lives of churches or souls. They are not thinking so much in heresy as in worldly agitprop."

I'm sure we differ on our sense of an attractive inner life of the soul, but, dear Bowman, within various Protestant and Catholic churches I have heard *very little* of the inner life of souls and churches for, oh, most of my lifetime.

Father Ron said...

The 'Inner Life of Souls' might perhaps better be left between the individual soul and God? Is this not the 'better way'. There seems to be far too much of a militant group conscience being operated by those who ignore a queen's warning about looking through windows into (other) people's souls. Faith is more easily experienced than taught by rote. Maybe love is really the key

Anonymous said...

"Rubber meets the road: what would a generous orthodoxy say or better do with..."

I gather that GO is a bridge on another road from that of the fight-heads.
On one bank, O seems to be about personal spirituality and ecclesial identity in which the creeds are both central and indispensible. People who want their churches to say what they mean and mean what they say might like that better than more clericalist or synodicalist agendas. On the other bank, the G is a promise to recognise the Centre at the centre, not build walls at frontiers. In doing more C S Lewis, this O might be G in not harassing a Thomas Merton or a Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.

The music stops, we all sit down. If there is a chair.

In Plenty, Meryl Streep plays an Englishwoman, Susan, who had found herself in her 20s in Vichy France. There she had been a British agent helping the Resistance with acts of sabotage. Good against undeniable evil was an inspiring cause. Love amid death was intense, bittersweet, anonymous. Quick decisions saved lives. Fighting pumped adrenaline. War was good.

But peace came. In that, Susan wore pearls and carried a handbag as the wife of a British diplomat conscientiously negotiating the disintegration of the British empire, crisis by crisis. The war reflexes with which she now identified her self in war were destructive to everyone around her in peace. The fish that she had become was on dry land.

There are quibbles about the equity of this and that in Acts etc but these are lines among chapters about God, God, God. Disagreements in churches are normal and healthy, but partisan hostility is obviously an aberration. Yet we have lived with so much of it for so long that through mere distraction it has become the sham faith of too many. O, especially GO, seems not to oppose many causes outright, but it does deflate all of them by gently referring meaning and purpose away from our glorious agitations and back to God and what God does. My guess-- but it is only that-- is that this GO will not seem G at all to those who have loved the fighting in churches too much to give it up. But they need it.

In civil societies, demobilisation after war is at the root of many social pathologies. No society does enough to heal them, and some of them cannot be contained. Churches are not different.

BW

Anonymous said...

"I'm sure we differ on our sense of an attractive inner life of the soul"

Unlikely, but possible, of course.

"Within various Protestant and Catholic churches I have heard *very little* of the inner life of souls and churches for, oh, most of my lifetime."

In liberal democracies, states founded as guarantors of rights cannot do much ideological work, and especially not that which maintains social classes. So schools and churches do it. Thus shared citizenship and social class compete against spirituality as the basis of relationships and congregations. In parishes, the former mostly win. In monasteries, recovery groups, chaplaincies, and spiritual direction, the latter often does.

BW

Mark Murphy said...

When I contemplate a meaningful family gathering, I think: yes, food and warm company, but why don't we sing?

My cousins in England gather around the piano after special meals and sing.

You can't have dance without music.

So I take out the guitar and learn (badly) some chords, and I bring it along to the meal and we sing and it's grand. But it takes energy and initiative from me, and the only songs everyone really knows to sing along to these days are *church songs* (who knows what my kids will sing a long to - pop music is not really collective - guess I'll have to teach them).

My point is: in our culturally impoverished western societies, Christianity often fills in for culture - for tribal identity, for tribal belongingness achieved through the senses and with each other.

Well, yes, of course. This is what religions do.

But, like your Bowman's example of Christianity and civic community, perhaps the collapse of community in the west means that Christianity gets drafted in - in more or less appealing aesthetic ways - to fill in the gap for thee primary, tribal human needs.

My point is: we can, and my experience is often do, miss out on spirituality when Christianity is being tribe, family, theatre, song, and dance. Yes spirit moves through these ways but also profoundly disrupts them too. And works apart: My kingdom is not of this world.

In a sense, tradition works against spirit: the spirit blows where it will, creates and destructs, makes all things new. I'm sure my ADU friends will readily agree!

Father Ron said...

This paragraph from the writing of the Very Revd Dr. David Ison – who is shortly to retire as Dean of Saint Paul’s Cathedral, London – gives a clue to what he sees as being at the heart of true Christian ministry; not dogmatic pronunciations, but the pastoral ministry of the Church – to tell the world of God’s Love – for ALL people, not just those who occupy our pews. (Sounds very much like Pope Francis' homily to his new cardinals) : –

“My experience of what works in mission is fairly simple. It is to pray – to love God; to love our neighbours by serving them inside and especially outside the church; to love one another as a diverse group of disciples; and to do these things together, building a shared vision for a loving and serving church. Being people of spiritual integrity, living in the truth, welcoming other people without judgement (see Matthew chapter 7), meeting them in their personal and community needs – that’s what attracts people to the Christian gospel. In an incarnational faith. It's Christian lives, not doctrines or techniques, that build the kingdom of God.

Anonymous said...

To every thing there is a season and a time for every purpose under heaven.

-- Ecclesiastes iii 1

"My point is: in our culturally impoverished western societies, Christianity often fills in for culture - for tribal identity, for tribal belongingness achieved through the senses and with each other."

Which is why Dietrich Bonhoeffer ended his life commenting on *religionless christianity*. He foresaw the radically secularised world in which churches would not have either an ideological burden-- universities, political parties, sports, mass entertainment do all that-- or a mass following that wants them to carry it for them. Christianity, he speculated, faces a future in which it is not a mass religion.

Praise the Lord, that's my world :-) To me, real faith is trusting God's self-revelation amid *these facts as they manifestly are on this ground here today* without blaming anyone for them and without the delusion that we ourselves can intentionally change them. Full stop. At its worst, disestablishment can never be as soul-shaking as the Babylonian exile was. It is surely a lot more fun to be a Christian than it used to be.

Kindly note that evangelism, missions, social ministry, and spirituality have all thrived in cold climates with no immediate expectation of great success. In parts of the Anglican Communion-- Iran, Egypt, England-- they do so today.

(The Ecumenical Patriarchate is in the Fener neighborhood of Istanbul on the south bank of the Golden Horn. From the middle ages until about the 1980s, the families resident in the Fener were descendants of the Christian nobility of the Byzantine empire. But several factors-- dilapidated palaces, careers in the West, bombing of Kurdistan, Islamic nationalism, Istanbul's Muslim pilgrimage sites, nearby Sufi centres-- have repopulated the place with conservative Muslims. The secretary to the Holy Synod once mentioned to me that a delegation from the Vatican had told the patriarch that they were deeply impressed to see throngs of religious women in black crowding the streets around him. "We know that Orthodoxy is reviving worldwide, but we do not see this even in Rome!" "They are not ours," Bartholemew wistfully replied.)

So we carry on. If one does not crave the comforts of Christendom, one does not not feel much pressure to give up revealed faith for something else more popular. And it is energising to be a disciple among others who would rather get better at practising Christianity than at whining about it.

*

Unreal faith, to me, is groping for the right religious fixes to bring all the godless back in again so that one won't have to face the institutional demoralisation of empty pews. Or-- it is haranguing those who still are in the pews to storm capitols to bring back the old Christendom that they think that they remember. Both are the weakness of being unable to accept facts. Could the fear of death be behind this?

At bottom, either sort of fidgeting usually looks to me like disbelief that God has ever revealed himself at all to anyone at any time because it always goes straight to scriptures, creeds, traditions for something to fix to get a more popular religion. Because an unrevealed God is incompatible with the perichoreisis of the Three, some online flatly call this *apostasy*. I find such reproach of human weakness uncharitable and in fact irresponsible. But it has a point.

Anonymous said...

*

Some friends start to sound to me more like the Hindus or Muslims I know than like the most mature and profound Christians I know. Our conversations may be about Anglican persons, places, and things but the thinking is out on floating islands in inter-faith waters where castaways no longer believe but still want to belong.

With them, it is not feasible to reason as one might do with a Christian for whom the creeds are a bottomless depth. So we drift off into philosophical reason, which fidgets hate even more than theology. Mysterious are the ways of providence.

Occasionally, my sweet reasonableness angers someone. He-- not so far a she-- is more than merely free to explain his faith and his complaint. True or not, it could be interesting. But none have so far bothered.

*

From the little that I can see, fidgets are on the horns of a dilemma. On one hand, if they take the faith revealed in time by the triune God, then they have to make theological and devotional sense of their relative powerlessness after Christendom. For some reason, they fear not being on a winning team more than God himself.

On the other hand, if they tinker with the faith as something more malleable and so more marketable, then unity from the revealed God dissolves. They fritter their lives away hectoring other churchgoers to submit to their innovations. But the anger of man worketh not the justice of God. St James i 20.

The way through the horns of the dilemma? Adaptive creativity from within the tradition. But one has to learn jazz to play jazz.

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

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


BW

Anonymous said...


"If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you."

-- Romans viii 11

"In a sense, tradition works against spirit: the spirit blows where it will, creates and destructs, makes all things new. I'm sure my ADU friends will readily agree!"

Unless they have been *illumined* chanting psalms, reciting creeds, reading bibles, praying liturgies, keeping fasts, hearing words of grace, venerating icons, etc. The Spirit seems to have been very busy tradition-making these last millennia and centuries. And that has been very fruitful for those of us who believe in Him as revealed.

The Father's providence is indeed inscrutable, but not as though the Holy Spirit who hovered on the waters at creation were a force for nihilism in the cosmos. If the One who raised Jesus from the dead had no determinate character as a Person, then it would be vacuous even to speak of Him. If He does have some character, then He can have done some things and not others.

In daily life-- eg David Ison's "incarnational faith" in Father Ron's 10:16 just above-- the Holy Spirit's character is the basis for discernment, separating thoughts not of God from thoughts that are of God. If there were no such separation, then all thoughts would be equally God's, and Donald Trump's narcissistic power-seeking would be as "incarnational" as David Ison's missional ministry. Absurd, of course.

Which is why our Jesuit friends have Ignatian ways of discerning spirits in making decisions, why our Quaker friends sit in meetings for discernment, and why my geronta on Athos would ask first thing in the morning about the traffic in my head. The Holy Spirit is the most concretising of the Three.

Scrutinise words that lean too consistently into God's unknowability. After all, even the author of the Cloud of Unknowing knows and says a lot about God! If thoughts do not know Him who has revealed Himself to us, then in what spirit do they speak of Him at all?

There is a spirit that fears clear knowledge of God in us. Knowing God well frees us of its influence. So in a way similar to the Russian disinformation campaigns in our societies, it plants seeds of doubt that God can ever be known, so that we will thereafter believe anything that it suggests. Knowing the headwaters, we should not drink from this foul stream. If you live in the Holy Spirit, be wary of those who offer you a cup of it.


BW

Mark Murphy said...

According to the Christian mystical tradition, getting ones beliefs in order - in generous or ungenerous orthodoxies - is an important step in human consciousness, which then needs to be completely let go of, transcended, if one is to touch the inner life of the soul, the kingdom of god.

Is a concern for orthodoxy really addressing the urgent spiritual needs of people, in and outside the church?

*

Are you looking for me? I am in the next seat.
My shoulder is against yours.
You will not find me in stupas, not in Indian shrine rooms,
nor in synagogues, nor in cathedrals:
not in masses, nor kirtans, not in legs winding
around your own neck, not in eating nothing
but vegetables.
When you really look for me, you will see me instantly -
Kabir says: Student, tell me, what is God?
He is the breath inside the breath.

- Kabir (Robert Bly translation)

Anonymous said...

"According to the Christian mystical tradition..."

Which one? Says who?

"...getting one's beliefs in order - in generous or ungenerous orthodoxies - is an important step in human consciousness, which then needs to be completely let go of, transcended, if one is to touch the inner life of the soul, the kingdom of god."

Who is your source for this? Mystics like Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection seem rather believing even when they are closest to God. Prophets have an intense experience of God but they have hardly left belief behind when calling people to believe is the content of what they are saying. If I could "see the New Jerusalem descending from heaven like a bride" I would not be fitting that model, but it might still be a wonderful thing.

That model sounds rather like Sri Aurobindo and Ken Wilber, neither Christians, neither notable mystics. More or less interesting philosophers of religion, but better with Asian than with Western religions. Much of the spiritual life of the West-- and the interesting non-West-- does not fit this construct.

Among those who are indubitably Christians and exemplary mystics-- eg St Thomas Aquinas, St John of the Cross, and St Gregory Palamas-- they not only did they not leave beliefs behind, but were also dialecticians at a very high level precisely about mystical experience. Several Christian mystics, in fact, have been good workaday administrators (eg St Basil the Great, St Bernard of Clairvaux, St Teresa of Avila), and a few more have had remarkable political savvy (St Catherine of Siena, Dag Hammerskjold).

Anyway, the actual mystical writings that we have from world religions are clearly in the faith matrices from which they came. Why else would Julian of Norwich have had sixteen visions of the Crucifixion rather than of the Dance of Shiva? Why isn't the god-talk of Al Ghazzali as earthy and incarnational as Luther's? Rowan Williams is interesting on this point.

I have not yet finished the books mentioned in the OP. As it seems fair to read before criticizing, I shall refrain from that and from speculations about their motives, their best use of time, their criteria for prioritising human need, etc until I have read what they themselves say about it.

But in the meantime, how might masses of people who fear that the biblical god hates them pole-vault past belief to union with Christ in the perichoresis of the Three?


BW

Anonymous said...

"Was ist dein einiger trost im Leben und im Sterben?" **

-- Heidelberg Catechism, Question 1.

Postscript

As the old French Catholic *directeurs* used to say (and the old Anglo-Catholic ones after them) followers of Jesus have different *attraits* and so experience the means of grace and indeed God somewhat differently.

But even taking this into account, the Reformed emphasize "having beliefs" more than anyone else in Christendom. They value *assurance* because they are Protestant. Because they suppose that the Holy Spirit applies grace to souls without mediation, they seeks evidence of grace in introspection. Until they find it, they have no grounds for an assurance that they are elect.

It happens that the pleasure taken in contemplating scriptural beliefs is just such an evidence of grace. So, to happy Reformed, curling up with a favourite commentary on scripture or systematic theology is not only informative, but an experience of God's saving love. A strong incentive!

Lutherans may also enjoy reading theology, but because they believe that saving grace is always mediated by the Word outside the self, working out a system of belief does not in itself prove anything about the likelihood of their election. What matters to them is trust in the Word-- scriptural, preached, sacramental, fraternal-- because those words are the Word of promise from God that cannot return to him unfulfilled. The Word elects them. Lutheran trust in that promise of a God who does not lie is an existential attitude that ill fits our word *belief*, but is the leitmotif of all the cantatas of J. S. Bach.

If the experience of *belief* can vary so much just within the compass of magisterial Protestantism-- it is something else for Catholics, and something yet again different for Orthodox and Methodists and Anabaptists etc-- then there is no one phenomenon that answers to the word everywhere. And in each configuration, believing is an act engaging all the heart's faculties.

It is hard to say anything worthwhile about belief in general.

** "What is your only hope in life and in death?"

BW

Mark Murphy said...

Hey Bowman,

You sound like you're wanting proof texts and footnotes. I suppose I could provide them, but....it's so defensive.

But it's one way orthodoxy exercises power I suppose - this is not us, this is unChristian, it's Eastern, please provide proof text and authorities. = life sucking

Anonymous said...

Hi Mark

"you're wanting proof texts and footnotes"

No, but if you drop a couple names that indicate whose perspective you are taking, time will be saved.

"...but....it's so defensive."

Not at all. Think of it as clearer assertion.

*

"...orthodoxy exercises power..."

"According to *the* Christian mystical tradition..." probably sounds thumpingly orthodox to most of + Peter's readers. You power-grabber! ;-)

But as we were discussing with Moya a few months back, there are a few distinct trajectories through Christian mysticism, they have their fans, the fans have their reasons, and the reasons are not trivial. Do you have someone in mind?

*

"...this is not us, this is unChristian, it's Eastern..."

Have I said any of this?

I encourage comparative theology. In the way that few know English grammar well who do not write one other language fluently, some will not be creatively orthodox Christians without a comparative study of say Daoism.

*

Nevertheless, I am a mere Christian situated in the West on an Anglican blog.

From what common ground should we start? In what directions can we stretch it?

*

" = life sucking"

As you have recently seen, what sucks life is a traveling salesman who insists that we all should buy his unicycles while denying that we can possibly know why we might want them.


BW

Mark Murphy said...

Oh, this may become a tedious dissection. How can we stay lively with it?

You want names? Do you hear my reluctance...that sense of instantly having to prove one's authorities, to *prove*. Maybe I'm finally understanding the word *justify* and it's popularity in Christian discourse?

Well this is probably my fault for being a bit sweeping with the expression "according to Christian mystical tradition...'.

Ok a name.

The witness I call to the dock is: Father Thomas Keating, Benedictine. Roman Catholic. Abbot. Father of Centering Prayer. Interpreter of the Christian Contemplative tradition (of western Catholic Christianity). Orthodox Christian thinker and Interspiritual dialogue partner. Perhaps one of the most influential contemporary figures in the revival of (catholic) contemplative prayer.

MM: Father, did you say: 'getting one's beliefs in order is an important step in human consciousness...'

TK: I don't think I've ever used those words. Of course, the ego wants to order everything - our beliefs about God as well as our shopping list. Wouldn't that be nice. But, thank God, this project is doomed to fail and if it doesn't fail we'd never have a spiritual life.

MM: That's an interesting statement...

TK: ...but, yes, in terms of human consciousness, if your point is we develop from an initial state of unconscious oneness into more differentiated forms of consciousness, including phases when we are caught up in rational, dualistic thinking, in creating and defending tribal identities and exploring the world through conceptual thought...yes, that's true...

MM: Is there something unchristian about this model, this construct of consciousness?

TK: You what?

MM: You know, Ken Wilber. Sri Aurobindo.

TK: Why are you saying those names?

MM: I think I'm trying to Other you.

TK: Be my guest!

Anonymous said...

Centering Prayer as taught by Thomas Keating OCSO. Why not just say so?

Centering Prayer is fairly widespread in TEC. It seems to have worked for those not so attracted by more object-oriented and arduously somatic prayer-ways like the Jesus Prayer. Nevertheless, in the early years at Spencer, it was usually paired with Lectio Divina in the belief that the two together had a sort of *hybrid vigour*. Hereabouts, it is often inserted in liturgies.

As can be seen in his books, Keating himself was at least as cheerfully dogmatic as I am. But on the Grand Topic, he expected, as I do, that the disciples of Jesus will emerge from the residue of Christendom with a somewhat different pattern of organisation and relation to society. In that sense, he was a traditionalist-- how could a Trappist be anything else?-- but not a conservative, let alone a liberal.


BW

Father Ron said...

Dear Mark. You've probably by now realized that, among the theological cognoscenti (on some blogs) original thinking may not be encouraged. One must always be able to provide the name of an obscure celebrated author (preferable German) in order to be considered serious. This may be one of the reasons for the continuation of 'Sola Scriptura'. Personal experience has a low rating - especially in matters of ethical consideration.

Anonymous said...

Ever the diplomat, I think our Father Ron was too kind to say that he has this blog in mind--

https://journal.rts.edu/article/on-bavinck-the-beatific-vision-and-theological-practice/

In contrast, we at ADU certainly take people very seriously when they describe their personal experiences of beholding the divine Essence. The rest of the time, I trust that God forgives us for being irenic, playful, and mostly cheerful.


BW

Mark Murphy said...

By the time he died, he was a Zen: not in the sense of being a Buddhist, but an awake one, a Single One (Thomas might say), much simpler and broader than any small tradition. Ken Wilber attended his funeral. Pope Benedict wrote a letter cautioning against non-Christian forms of meditation, that may or may not have been aimed at Centering Prayer. Pious, genuflecting Catholics could revere him and claim him as their own (finally, a spiritual Father) while the closest of his disciples - David Frenette and Cynthia Bourgeault (non Catholics) - expanded Centering Prayer in original ways.

He never concerned himself with orthodoxy as such, but with inviting people into a direct experience of God.

Does reincarnation exist?...he asked out loud toward the end of his life. Maybe it is Christ, he said, who is reincarnated again and again.

Here's Thomas Keating at his dazzling, effortless, original best:

https://youtu.be/NhYObr0YVPg

Mark Murphy said...

God cannot be housed in any one religion, let alone any one orthodoxy or creed.

Mark Murphy said...

:)

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Mark
I could be wrong, but the creeds are not about containing God but about an agreed or common understanding of revelation.

In that understanding, Jesus Christ is the full and final revelation of God.

Clearly that is disputed by (e.g.) Muslims and Mormons; if not more subtlely by (e.g.) Thomas Keating.

For myself, I am loathe to go beyond Jesus.

Mark Murphy said...

But Jesus goes beyond Jesus, right? All the way to the Father/Mother/Spirit. All the way to the Light that enlightens everyone coming into this world. To the Word through which all things are made.

What are pilgrims in the caves of Ellora doing, if not going beyond Shiva, in the next cave going beyond Buddha, to that uncreated Light in relation to which we are all ‘children of light’, as our scriptures maintain?

And who is Jesus but that Light shining back towards us, bringing us, who are called to his flock, into our own particular Light embodiment?

As Thomas Keating says, the Oneness (God) is everywhere, and in infinite forms. When we reach out to grab it, because “God is so fast”, he’s already appeared in another form of Oneness. This is the paradox of prayer, of theology. We make one creedal statement and God instantly appears in ways that are beyond and different to the words we have just used.

Father Ron said...

Thank you, Bowman for your link, from which I've extracted this paragraph as an instance of what I was trying to say - about the unreliability of any one theologian's ability to summarise the whole tenor of the gospel in a single unanimous (albeit, lengthy) opinion:

“(In the same article, Bavinck sets Calvinism’s “deep vein of mysticism” in contrast with the “worldly Christianity” produced by liberal Protestantism in its failure to recast this life in light of the hereafter. On this point, the caricatures of the Neo-Calvinist tradition, and of Bavinck in particular found in the writings of Michael Allen and Hans Boersma—as “this-worldly” and unspiritual, and having “sidelined the beatific vision,” in contradistinction to the apparently more mystical Kuyper—do not suggest close familiarity with Bavinck’s biography or oeuvre.)”[4]

Which probably - as you might insist - necessitates a copious appetite for scholastic observation to be able to understand enough of what every theologian is talking about in order to become a true disciple of Christ. (So many, alternative and sometimes completely contrary ideas). Whereas; I remember the story of the old woman who, after a lifetime of simple faith, was Confirmed and received the Eucharist for the very first time. She took the Host in her hands - looked at it and said the word "Jesus" - recognising in the morsel of bread the secret of Whom she was meeting. Simple Faith?

A question: Are some people more naturally spiritual than others, gifted to understand the reality of God-in-Christ without having struggled through a Doctoral Thesis?

One realises the need for clergy to have to undergo a rigorous theological (and liturgical) education, but does anyone - ever - fully understand the Mystery of Christ when, we are told that even the Holy Spirit is (still?) searching the mind of God?

Anonymous said...

I am with you +Peter! ‘In Christ the fullness of God dwells bodily’ (Paul) and ‘Those who have the Son have the Father’ (John). As the Word of God Jesus reveals all that human understanding can receive of the God we worship. That is not to say that there aren’t depths in God that we will never fathom whatever we experience of the Other. But as George Fox found, Christ speaks to our condition! And for that I love him
Moya

Anonymous said...

From what common ground should we start?

In what directions should we stretch that?

I sense that nobody here accepts anyone else here as a prophet.

And there are two books waiting.

BW

Mark Murphy said...

Bowman, we have started.

We are stretching into different, interesting directions. Again, it's a credit to Peter that he *generously* hosts this open exchange without closing it down (or taking a backward step).

We *are* discussing orthodoxy.

Anonymous said...

Father Ron, I've always liked your comments, but... I've liked them more in the past few months. Reading them, I've had the thought that maybe something really good has happened for you? I hope so. :-)

*

There are never just two kinds of anything, but let's say that there are at least two kinds of couples.

For one kind, the quintessence of wedding is an impulsive dash to tie the knot in city hall. A simple moment, theirs alone. Since marriage to them is an act of will, that to them is perfection. Every complication added to that smiling notary sealing a certificate is subtracted from their joy.

For another kind of couple, the quintessence of wedding is the gathering, mingling, and in a way merging of their whole social worlds, beginning with the families at the cores of their lives, but including close friends and perhaps their career networks. So there must be ceremony so that others can participate, more of it perhaps for more participants. Participants need hospitality, so that must be planned and arranged, and the details of that must be worthy of the occasion. Big weddings inevitably attract many travelers-- another layer of detail-- and so today those who can are wed in some destination to which their guests might like to travel (three from experience: a beach in Mexico, an estate on Martha's Vineyard, a castle in Austria). For these couples, persons are persons in that they are social beings, a marriage is a new social world, and a wedding is its founding act of hospitality. Insofar as the details show care, they are not distractions, let alone subtractions, but the whole point.

If on the day after their weddings, these couples should meet in an airport someplace, each will recognise the other as one of another sort. Each will have mixed feelings. Did they get something from wedding that we did not? But then-- what a crazy way they have of thinking about marriage! Deep differences. Still, I doubt that security guards break up many fights over who had the right kind of wedding. And we know that they are all married.

Anonymous said...

As you will have guessed, this is an analogy.

There are many kinds of Christians, of course. Let's say that there will never, ever be fewer than two extremes.

There will always be those who constitutionally see faith as the alone with the Alone. There is usually something other Christians do that seems empty and intrusive to these spiritual solitaries. Within the type, tastes vary. Some shake off ritual that they don't need, others beliefs that they don't need, others morals that they don't need. To them everything that they do not need for their flights to the Alone subtracts from their joy in doing it. The ancient canons oblige hermits to attend church no less than once each year. But also no more.

There will always be others who no less constitutionally see religion as *religio*, the ligatures, the obligations, really the ligaments that bind them to God along with his whole luminous creation. As God is not alone, so they are never solitary in the Lord. To be fully alive in him, they participate in wider circles of being-- the teeming life of wild places, those extended families we just mentioned, the crowds of any metropolis, the extended Body of the saints from Israel to whatever future they know, the liturgy as an immensely complex representation of the Light in heaven.

To participate in so much, they seem to rejoice in more, sometimes much more, of everything that helps them to do that. Not just the Lord's Prayer but the psalms; not just sacraments but sacramentals; indeed the cycles of prayer in whole liturgical ordos. Not just a love mantra but the creed understood in some depth; not just the testimony that the Holy Spirit has given the saints since; but all the perspectives on those illuminations that souls praying through them have found. And not just bare harmlessness but the Decalogue followed in a certain mindfulness of created existence; not just canons but the ethos that the Holy Spirit gives to the Body; not just obedience to law but some awareness of what Christ is doing in even civil institutions. To them this is all personal salvation because it mends in their hearts St Maximus's five schisms in the cosmos: between Creator and creatures, things invisible and things visible, heaven and earth, paradise and world, man and woman.

Anonymous said...

ADU is + Peter's airport. And through it pass many who are *constitutionally* close to one or the other of these relative extremes of Less is More and More is More. They are who they are. And as with those couples, the feelings of each about the other are mixed. Do they get something from Christianity that I do not? But then-- what a crazy way they have of thinking about God!

Unlike the couples-- every analogy breaks down somewhere-- we see arguments here that boil down to: "I cannot live with the attrait that I have and the faith to which it inclines me unless I try to tear down the faith of those not like me and the ways they participate in the life of God." Which is like one of our couples thinking that they are not themselves married unless they can convince a very different couple that they are not married. Which is absurd. They all have the same papers from the same source.

So that + Peter will spend minimal time as a security guard here-- and so that I will not waste my own time!-- I do not participate in more than shallow conversations at ADU unless I have robust confidence that the participants are well above that need to bolster their own insecurities by fighting with others. To nobody's discredit, this is rare.

Sadly for + Peter, but fortunately for my schedule (and yours too, I observe), traveling salesmen nearly always try to sell unicycles here by attacking those of other attraits. "I should not have to show why my unicycle is good. You should just be like me and then you will want to buy one. If you read the right books..." Natural Law was the latest example, but as this is an airport we have seen several a year for several years.

Again, it is not common for a heart to charitably comprehend other attraits. Souls do not know what they do not see. Spiritual direction can help this, but then if one has to see that one does not see something to seek spiritual direction... Another topic for another week.


BW

Anonymous said...

I can well understand that some Protestants ridicule the idea of natural law, not because they understand it (they don't, their expensive prep school education begins in Descartes' stove before moving on to other pressure cookers), but they do instinctively recognise that taking natural law seriously threatens their acquiescence to modern secular liberalism as the unquestioned political ground zero. The Gospel according to The New York Times.
And even that is hardly a place of peace and serenity. Can they answer why New York Democrats enthusiastically support abotion up to birth aka infanticide? Can they articulate why this is a grave evil, or do they not wish to offend the 'cultured despisers' of Christianity? Is the unborn child my neighbour? Not in New York or TEC, apparently.
Do they understand why lesbians are at war with "transwomen" (police threw lesbians out of a "Pride" march in Wales) and do they know what natural law says about the whole confusion and conflict in the secular mind?
Do they understand why J. K Rowling has become persona non grata among 'les bien pensants'?
Do they know why "transgenderism" is deeply harmful to girls and women, and not just US college swimmers?
Too threatening to actually pick up and read a book by real Christian
scholars like Budzsizweski or Edward Feser or Carl Trueman or even to listen to Bishop Robert Barron on a youtube video. Better to attack a straw man or dismiss Aquinas with some opaque and idioglossic joke.
As for "spirituality" (what an elastic word!) and "orthodoxy", anyone who wants legitimately to claim the name of catholic Christian should really do some listening to that Doctor of the Church, St Irenaeus of Lyons. It seems to me that all the issues mentioned above were adumbrated in his "Adversus Haereses". Gnosticism is almost the default setting of human "spirituality" and it has plenty of modern reflexes in popular culture (e.g. "Star Wars", mystical Greenism, mystical neo-Maoritanga) as well as exotic sexual "identities". Post-Christian Quakerism is another example of modern Gnosticism.
St Irenaeus reminds us in that great work that the Gnostics were adept in taking Christian language and reconfiguring it to mean something entirely different (just as, he said, the jewels in a mosaic of a man could be reconfigured to depict instead a dog). "Not everyone who calls me "Lord, Lord" but he who does the will of my heavenly Father" is the touchstone of true spirituality.

Pax et bonum,
William Greenhalgh

Mark Murphy said...

Father Ron,

I wonder if a person with a simpler faith is at an advantage because they are less encumbered (by beliefs) when they encounter the divine. There's just enough for the riverbanks to hold, without stopping the divine flow heart-to-heart.

Those of us who are more encumbered - myself included - perhaps get to experience more joy of the release, of letting go, however.

An image from a Rumi story is coming to mind - of a donkey loaded up with books...

Peter Carrell said...

Hi William
There are clearly Natural law failures here or hereabouts (including me).
You seem to be making a link between that failure and a Protestantism doomed to preach the Gospel of the NYT.
Here is another failure on my part: I fail to see that failure re Natural Law necessitates subscription to the Gospel of the NYT.
I have many concerns about transgenderism (for example), though they may not precisely align with yours; ditto full-term abortion.
Do you have to be so excluding/categorising in your commentary on those of us who question Natural Law?

Mark Murphy said...

Is humility part of Natural Law?

Mark Murphy said...

We seem to have broken out into labelling each other. Have I done it to someone else? If so I apologize*.

Also may mean strong feelings are cooking up.

* Oh yeah, I do remember talking about DioSouthCRoss as Neo-Calvinists: passive aggressive for my feelings of disdain.

Anonymous said...

I think of Ezekiel’s picture of us being in a river, some ankle-deep, some knee-deep, some waist-deep, some swimming but ones like me, if it is getting deeper, keep one foot on the bottom!
Moya

Father Ron said...

Bowman, I think this paragraph of yours bears repeating here on A.D.U.

"To participate in so much, they seem to rejoice in more, sometimes much more, of everything that helps them to do that. Not just the Lord's Prayer but the psalms; not just sacraments but sacramentals; indeed the cycles of prayer in whole liturgical ordos. Not just a love mantra but the creed understood in some depth; not just the testimony that the Holy Spirit has given the saints since; but all the perspectives on those illuminations that souls praying through them have found. And not just bare harmlessness but the Decalogue followed in a certain mindfulness of created existence; not just canons but the ethos that the Holy Spirit gives to the Body; not just obedience to law but some awareness of what Christ is doing in even civil institutions. To them this is all personal salvation because it mends in their hearts St Maximus's five schisms in the cosmos: between Creator and creatures, things invisible and things visible, heaven and earth, paradise and world, man and woman."

(especially, I loved the 'mindfulness' tempered by experience)

Agape!

Anonymous said...

Hello, Peter - Through the courtesy of your blog I have stated on several occasions that 1. Natural law is not the Gospel (far from it) but neither is it opposed to it (as nominalists new and old believe) because grace perfects but does not abolish nature; 2. the four fundamentals of natural law (synderesis; the evidence of design in nature; the evidence of design in human beings; the consequence or telos of moral actions) are all taught explicitly in the Bible. If one calls himself an evangelical, this should be integral to his worldview. There was a time until recently (the shadow of neo-orthodoxy and Barth's "positivism of revelation", perhaps?) when just about all Protestants and certainly all evangelicals believed and taught these things. As I said repeatedly, the pages of Calvin's Institutes are replete with references to natural law. I am only reminding Protestants of their own neglected and forgotten inheritance. It isn't a "Catholic thing! By all means "question" natural law - but let us all understand what we are questioning and see where it historically belongs in our own heritage.
Understanding human nature as God intended it is how Christians make sense of being male and female, mothers and fathers, forming families, and the meaning of the sex instinct. Reading the Bible informs us (as if we didn't know) that human nature is corrupted by sin and needs the grace of God to correct it. You won't read that in the NYT.

Pax et bonum,
William Greenhalgh

Mark Murphy said...

For clarification, I don't think Thomas Keating believed in reincarnation. He seems to have held a very classical, orthodox, 'cheerfully dogmatic' view of life after death, which he spoke about all his life.

What I wanted to highlight is his capacity to think and feel in a broad and big hearted way...as a person deeply grounded in Christian faith, his willingness to move into new waters for a moment or more and take on a core belief and experience of the Indian wisdom traditions, and really consider it.

I suppose you could call this a generous orthodoxy.

Father Ron said...

Well, William, I guess what is 'natural' to one person might be quite unnatural to another.

I'm sorry we Anglicans don't seem to match up the perfection of your Catholicity. However, Pope Francis does seem to be more generous in his understanding of 'orthodoxy' than some of his followers - just like Jesus, who often shocked the institutional 'religious' with his embrace of the marginalised of his society. When he says 'Pax et Bonum', I'm pretty sure he really understands what he is saying - (just like his namesake; Blessed Francis of Assisi).

Mark Murphy said...

I agree with most of your post, Moya - and the quotes from Paul and John.

Where we might differ is: and God dwells fully in other beings too. As fully as he dwelt in Jesus? I honestly don't know. A large part of me would say: No. But I actually don't know.

I remember meeting a Muslim woman once, many years ago, when I was at university studying religion and politics. She came to interview for the vacant position of Islam specialist within the Department of Religious Studies, which included giving a lecture to the students. When she walked up to the podium and began speaking, I was bowled over with her presence. Completely stunned. Breathless. Oh my, who is this? She is so, so....what is the word?

I reached inside and then found one word that seemed to perfectly fit my experience - and it was a deeply religious, theological word, and that seems absolutely right. *Grace*. She is full of grace.

Oh isn't this strange, I thought: a female Muslim scholar from Pakistan has finally taught me what grace is.

Anonymous said...

That’s amazing Mark and wonderful! I guess many saints have seen and served Christ in other people so it is part of the tradition but how much he is there varies presumably. And maybe some circumstances of life and faith draw him out in greater or lesser ways, whatever their religious experience.
Moya

Anonymous said...

"Let the dead bury their dead."

-- St Luke ix 60

"What I wanted to highlight is his capacity to think and feel in a broad and big hearted way...as a person deeply grounded in Christian faith, his willingness to move into new waters for a moment or more and take on a core belief and experience of the Indian wisdom traditions, and really consider it.

"I suppose you could call this a generous orthodoxy."

To my mind, this is not a bad start on a provisional working definition that any of us can use.

But honesty demands recognition that God has not called everyone to adapt to our shake of the kaleidoscope. Therefore, as we would expect, there are broad and big hearted people living well by orthodoxies that are not at all generous.

Their systems are not yet adequate to realities important to us. And they are doing nothing whatsoever about that. If it came to choosing sides, they would not choose ours.

But if the Holy Spirit has not opened some mazeway that they have refused, they are not morally or spiritually deficient to standing a post on their parapet and scanning their horizon. In his inscrutable providence, that is what God wants them to do instead of whatever we are doing.

Life is short. We can either plunge into the revealed life of God and be changed from glory to glory, or we can fret about why others disagree with us. God does not permit us to do both.


BW

Father Ron said...

Moya and Mark; what an interesting conversation! As for the capacity for us mere humans to be seen to represent Christ (alter Christus) - one hint
from Scripture may give us a clue, and it seems to require some action on our part: "Turn towards him and be radiant". Agape.

Mark Murphy said...

"But honesty demands recognition that God has not called everyone to adapt to our shake of the kaleidoscope. Therefore, as we would expect, there are broad and big hearted people living well by orthodoxies that are not at all generous.

Their systems are not yet adequate to realities important to us. And they are doing nothing whatsoever about that. If it came to choosing sides, they would not choose ours."

Absolutely. Without even trying to value one as better than the other. It would be a paycho-spiritual cultural disaster *and not Spirit-led at all* for, say, a genuflecting pious natural law Catholic to become a Liberal Quanglican. And vice versa.

Or, we might also say, for a devotee of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, or a Uighur Muslim, to become Australian Neo-Calvinists! And vice versa.

That seems to be the will of God too.

But the Spirit is dynamic, and we must also allow it to attract us out of our birth traditions and into new expressions of God's radiance, without also presuming all the attraction will be to Christian forms.

The important principle to me it seems - my minimalist theology - is discerning the work of the Spirit.

Anonymous said...

"Given this, it is scarcely surprising that those philosophers who accept the Cartesian premises that make solipsism apparently plausible, if not inescapable, have also invariably assumed that language-usage is itself essentially private. The cluster of arguments—generally referred to as “the private language argument”—that we find in the Investigations against this assumption effectively administers the coup de grâce to both Cartesian dualism and solipsism. (I. § 202; 242-315). Language is an irreducibly public form of life that is encountered in specifically social contexts. Each natural language-system contains an indefinitely large number of “language-games,” governed by rules that, though conventional, are not arbitrary personal fiats. The meaning of a word is its (publicly accessible) use in a language. To question, argue, or doubt is to utilize language in a particular way. It is to play a particular kind of public language-game. The proposition “I am the only mind that exists” makes sense only to the extent that it is expressed in a public language, and the existence of such language itself implies the existence of a social context. Such a context exists for the hypothetical last survivor of a nuclear holocaust, but not for the solipsist. A non-linguistic solipsism is unthinkable and a thinkable solipsism is necessarily linguistic. Solipsism therefore presupposes the very thing that it seeks to deny. That solipsistic thoughts are thinkable in the first instance implies the existence of the public, shared, intersubjective world that they purport to call into question."

https://iep.utm.edu/solipsis/


BW

Anonymous said...

Ron, you really ought to have another look at the foundational text of Anglicanism, Hooker's Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity. Am I right in thinking this is a basic text in the training of Anglican clergy, as an extended defence of the Elizabethan Settlement and what makes one an Anglican?
You will see of course - especially in 1.2.1 1.10.4 and 1.12.5 - that Hooker's "Law of Reason" is actually very similar to the scholastic understanding of Natural Law. Robert Faulkner of Boston College has explained Hooker's debt to this tradition with great precision.
It is a great shame when denominations don't know their own foundational texts, as they are then tossed and turned by the prevailing secular cultural trends. Ad fontes, coetus Anglicanorum! Read once again the judicious Mr Hooker - and see how close he is to Aquinas on eternal law at least.
As for Francis: he is ailing and will most likely step down in the coming year.
Pax et bonum,
William Greenhalgh

Father Ron said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Father Ron said...

William; where do miracles and the supernatural fit into your insistence on 'Natural Law' as the basis for Christian ethics, belief, and discipleship? Are they extrinsic to true faith?

Anonymous said...

“The important principle to me it seems - my minimalist theology - is discerning the work of the Spirit.”
I read forty years ago of a missionary to a remote and ‘primitive’ tribe in Papua New Guinea or maybe Sumatra, who led a tribesman to the Lord. Later he was amazed and delighted to hear the man talking to Jesus in his own language, clearly seeing him as like himself. That is an authentic work of the Spirit beyond the trappings of an alien culture or religion.
Moya

Anonymous said...

Ron, as an Anglican who follows Richard Hooker's Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, you will know that natural law (without ironic apostrophes) is not 'the" basis of Christian ethics (much less belief and discipleship) but is simply one division of the Eternal Law of God, which embraces the order of nature, the Decalogue, the Law of Christ, and the law of man derived according to historical circumstances. St Thomas sketches this very concisely in his Treatise on Law in the Summa. Because natural law comes from God (this is where St Thomas corrects Aristotle), it must always feature in our ethical reasoning. The Bible in fact insists on this: "Does not nature tell you ...?"
Miracles are nothing other than the God of creation exercising His Lordship over His creation in extraordinary ways. Christian faith is built on the two Grand Miracles of the Incarnation and the Resurrection. The content of faith is known through reason and revelation. Reason can establish the existence of God by observing the world and the nature of causality but can tell us nothing about the Trinity, the means of salvation, and the Beatific Vision.

Pax et bonum,
William Greenhalgh