Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Running round in circles or squaring the circle?

I am keeping an eye on the Roman synod on family, Eucharist and related matters currently working its way through a long, by Anglican standards, period of dialogue and discourse.

I am grateful for correspondents who have pointed me in the direction of the following posts which I share in no particular order of ranked importance and with acknowledgement that there are many either interesting if not intriguing links which could be made at this time. The last post is actually about Episcopalian life but it bears listing in the context of this post.

Damian Thompson reflects on the politics.

Our own Bishop Charles Drennan, Bishop of Palmerston North, made a speech which is reported here.

John Allen reports here.

Then from within TEC a joint Living Church reflection from different if not opposing perspectives on the possibility of living with contradictory views. Are Hylden and Voets correct re 'comprehension'? If they are then the Roman synod might be assisted by reflecting with them. If they are not then we might better understand some of the tensions being reported on in the links above!

I was fascinated near the beginning of the Roman synod to find someone describing what they were trying to do as squaring a circle - precisely what I think we Anglicans are trying to do. But the process of getting there (whatever 'there' may be) has observable elements of running around in circles!


Father Ron Smith said...

"One statement in particular horrified the conservatives. Francis told them that ‘the sense of faith impedes the rigid separation between the Teaching Church and the Learning Church, because the flock possesses its own “sense” to discern the new roads that the Lord reveals to the church…’ Meaning? We shall have to wait until the Pope delivers a final response to the synod next year" - Damian Thompson -

The fact that the Roman Pontiff - in this case, Pope Francis - refers to the tradition of Papal Infallibity (Rule, in this case) indicating that he might well use it to decentralise the overall authority of the Roman Vatican, would, indeed strike horror into the hearts of the professional Vaticani - whose whole lives are centred around their virtual invincibility as definitive 'rulers of The Church'. The Pope recognises that the local Church has to be ruled in its own context, the local bishop being pastor of the flock given to him.

Pope Francis also enunciates the reality of the Body of Christ model, which ordains that the Church must learn to listen to the Faithful as well as exercise the teaching gifts. Thus, the action of the Church is corporate, rather than centrally dominated - the sum of its body parts, with Christ as Head and Holy Spirit as Mediator!

If I were a conservative Roman Catholic, like Daamian, I would be worried, too. Would I have to treat other Christians as fellow heirs of the Body of Christ? With Jesus appearing at altars other than those in my own deonomination? Having to use my own intelligence, rather than relying on mediaeval models of piety? Goodness gracious!
Whatever is the world coming to?

Father Ron Smith said...

I like the statement of our own New Zealand Roman Catholic Bishop Charles Drennan, addressing the Synod of Bishops in Rome:

"“Decoupled from the question of same sex marriage which will never be part of the Christian way, the Church’s theologians can engage seriously with the voices of science that say sexual orientation is neither a personal choice nor a matter of social conditioning, but rests in the deepest ontological makeup of the individual and thus forms part of the mystery of human nature which is good,” he said."

Here, Bishop Drenna is articulating the modern understanding of homkosexuality as a given, reality, not a sinful or disfunctional aberration. This is a great forward movement by a Bishop of the Catholic Church in New Zealand, and needs to be understood by members of his Church, and by the rank and file of our own ACANZP.

It is the openness and forward-looking willingness to bring to the attention of all Christians the facts about hokosexuality that is so exciting about Bishop Drennan's statement. No doubt, the New Zealand R.C. Church will be seen as a significant 'mover and shaker' of Church politics if the Synod takes note of, and takes action on his recommendations - to inaugurate a theological 'think-tank' that will have some real influence in the future of the Church's treatment of its homsoexual members - in a more pastoral and helpful way.

Anonymous said...

Hi Peter,

GK Chesterton has apparently had a profound influence on the Pope. If you remember (according to Chesterton) the whole modern world has divided itself into conservatives and progressives. The business of progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of conservatives is to prevent mistakes from being corrected. I think the Pope is in the middle; a bit like Chesterton, but sadly that does not sell Catholic media or assuage those who think they have something useful to say. I'm unwilling to get into the doom or (if you look at Rorate) cautious victory calls.The Pope asked Catholics to choose a synod father and pray for him. That seems to me the most sensible course.


John Sandeman said...

Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane is running an insightful blog that long time observers are reading. I summarised some of his take on the synod here
John sandeman

Father Ron Smith said...

Thank you, John, for that link. Here is, I think, a most signficant quotation from Archbishop Mark Coleridge's web-site:

"On the Road Together – Seeking reality
"Some seem to think that decentralisation and unity are incompatible. Clearly Pope Francis doesn't. The paradox, I think, is that 'a healthy decentralisation' could in fact strengthen the real unity of the Church." - Archbishop Mark Coleridge -

People - like Archbishop Mark - are speaking of the need for a new set of language with which to speak the Good News of Jesus Christ. No more talk of homosexuality as 'a disorder'. Rather, one recognises ALL ther Baptized as valued children of God, to be loved and cared for. I'm all for that kind of talk!

Anonymous said...

Thank you, John Sandeman for the link to your OP. Abp Coleridge commends the straightforward approach of *first* reaffirming fundamental teaching and *then* reconsidering its application in the light of present circumstances.

For example, in his own blog, he discusses the quite interesting change in Catholic burial of suicides. In the ancient world, suicide was often a matter of social honour, but early Christians viewed it as a grave rejection of divine providence, so to speak. In the Roman church, the burial of suicides in consecrated ground was proscribed by canon law. Today, it remains Catholic teaching that our lives are in God's hands. But better understanding of the psychology of suicide and the stigma around suicide for the living has led to a quiet but decisive change from judgement to mercy. Catholics now bury their suicides from the church in consecrated ground. This change recognised both the truth of the ancient teachings and canons, and the distinction between the old suicides for honour and today's suicides from clinical depression. So far as I have heard, there are no protest groups at funerals for suicides, and no traditionalists digging up their bones at midnight to save their church.

Though Coleridge does not make it, a close comparison with Anglican controversies over That Topic is unavoidable. There is the same concern for the Father's order in creation, the same contrast between cultures past and present, the same marginalising infrequency of the practise, the same appeal to scientific knowledge, and the same question of the will of the person doing what is forbidden. And the great difference is surprising-- suicides do not talk.

How did the silent dead induce more change in the stubborn Catholic Church than protesters, poll numbers, government legislation, etc have done on another matter? Coleridge frames it in terms of the respect shown the core of the received teaching, and the concrete differences between ancient and contemporary suicide that have led to a different application for the time being. An Orthodox canonist might point to the principle of oikonomia to show that canons endure but are nevertheless not to be applied to an effect that frustrates God's will. Catholics were not asked to repudiate a teaching that has stood for two millennia; they were asked to understand it better in order to apply it mercifully.

What makes it so hard for Anglicans to agree on That Topic is that among us the centrist *enduring principle appled anew* has been opposed by happy warriors at both ends. On one hand, *social justice warriors* will not settle for a simple, compassionate accommodation of same sex partnerships; the Episcopal Church report on marriage, though superb in many ways, goes well beyond that to suggest scrapping the traditional understanding of heterosexual marriage altogether. On the other hand, *contenders for the faith* speak as though the deeper understanding of scripture that comes from a comparing our horizon to the ancient one can only weaken the authority of scripture. The recent Anglican Church of Canada report clearly recognises and somewhat describes this polarisation, but does not quite get to a centrist *enduring priniciple, applied anew*.

To find the enduring centre, one first has to dismiss the illusion that all Anglicans-- or even all in single Anglican churches-- will ever be unanimously liberal or conservative. Tiny Anglicans with these contrasting sensibilities arrive hourly in maternity wards everywhere. Except where Anglicans decide to become a shrill and exclusive little sect that drives out its own, all that those with either sensibility can realistically hope for is a reasonable balance with those of the other one that endures for a long time.

Bowman Walton

Bryden Black said...

“Tiny Anglicans with these contrasting sensibilities arrive hourly in maternity wards everywhere.” - Bowman. I was with you right up to this in the last paragraph - when the game was given away I sense.

If one really views the Anglican Church as a cultural association within society, then the language you construct and the use to which you put it (centrist, with two “happy warrior” extremes), works - to a large extent. BUT if the Church is the first fruits of the new creation, in the midst of the old, such that it is a missionary body through and through, as I fancied was your opening gambit (a lovely example, BTW), then we may not construct our anthropology on the premise of “expressive individualism”, as it is sometimes called. I use the phrase, human being as an autonomous self-positing personal subject, the fruit of the 18th C, itself a bastard step-child of the Christian Tradition.

For ‘science’ is never value free; and the institution of science arises in those cultures/that culture where ‘nature’ is viewed in a most particular manner - as “God’s creation”, with human being “in the divine image”, reading God’s thoughts after Him - even if both humans and the world of nature are somehow flawed and broken as well (“fallen”). See notably AE McGrath, A Scientific Theology, vol.1, Nature (2001). All of which allows the fruits of science to continue, even if transplanted into alien cultures.

That is, we may indeed be running around in circles, or trying to square circles, or whatever. Alternatively, we might attend to the enormity of God’s new creation in our midst through Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit, and fashion a form of community that transforms the very categories (again) of human being, living and dead: where the domestic church of family holds pride of place, and those wounded by the fall in particular ways are welcomed and loved, and consequently all are called to a holiness that judges half-baked reflections of the human.

Father Ron Smith said...

" and those wounded by the fall in particular ways are welcomed and loved, and consequently all are called to a holiness that judges half-baked reflections of the human." - Dr. Bryden Black -

Bryden, did you not realise that you, too, are 'wounded by the Fall'. You are not immune to the nature of fallen humanity. You are part of the problerm, too! You are, yourself, sometimes guilty of 'half-baked reflections' - even though some of them arrive on your doorstep in the form of other peole's learned treatises. They, too are part of the Fall. However, God still loves you; as God loves all humanity, not just a selective part of it. Learn to relax and smeel the roses!

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Bryden, for your thoughtful response. My delight in your comment outrun my understanding of your disagreement with mine. I will essay a clarification to it and await your corrections.

Yes, the Church is a missionary society. The work of the SPG, CMS, and others are as essential to our identity as St Augustine’s mission to Canterbury. And vice versa.

Yes, Alister McGrath is right that the Judaic sort of monotheism combined divine transcendence with divine immanence in a way that suggests an ordered cosmos. Belief in a self-consistent Creator stimulated the scientific idea of the uniformity of nature, which in turn warrants the credibility of controlled observations and experiments.

No, modern *expressive individualism* is not the basis of our anthropology, although we have learned some interesting things from it. The ancients recognised that some pursue opportunities and avoid risks more than others, and seem to have been right in seeing innate temperament as the cause of this (eg Sophocles’s Antigone and Creon, perhaps the Parable of the Talents). In commenting on the risk-tolerances of tiny Anglicans, I also had in mind the whole evidential web of survey data, fMRI BOLD signals, and experiments that support the psychological research of Costa and McCrae on *openness to new experience* and of Jonathan Haidt on *moral intuitions*. These explain how the judgments of individual liberals and conservatives differ, and at least suggest how they may each perform complementary tasks in social deliberation.

So, yes, through that dialectic we expect even a pagan society with a good ethos to transform some of its human categories over time. Liberals question the moral cost of what conservatives conserve; conservatives question the sustainability of what liberals propose. Liberals promote autonomy and compassion; conservatives, order and discipline. No society can flourish without both temperaments, and each culture is another mode of their coexistence throughout all the activities of our kind. God’s mysterious works at Babel and Pentecost fashioned his image into a mosaic.

But, yes, the cultural work of the Church under the sign of Pentecost differs from that which each natural society does under the sign of Babel. An authoritative centre is essential to deliberation, but has natural limits in the Body of Christ. Anglicans have seen that in Lambeth Conferences; Catholics just saw it in an extraordinary synods; Orthodox will see it at their own great council in 2017. Such grand deliberations have their place, but the Holy Spirit more often acts locally while thinking globally. The Church that was born at Pentecost is a wiki.

So, yes, in that mystery, some pattern of the domestic church may indeed flourish and spread where it is needed. And for reasons that go well beyond That Topic, stronger consensus on each Christian’s participation in the struggles of the creation (cf Romans 8) may finally emerge as its theological context. But as the old Quakers used to insist, part of obedience to the Holy Spirit is not running ahead of him, is waiting for him to open the way in which we can act.

When the Church’s ancient system of discipline collapsed-- a far greater catastrophe than anything we face today-- the solutions did not come from Rome or Alexandria, let alone the real centre of power in Constantinople. They came from monks at the edges of the known world in Ireland and Egypt and spread to the greater Church from there. The great churches exerted their influence, not by inventing and imposing anything, but by recognizing best practices when they saw them on the ground and by framing the doctrinal context within which they were received.

“Try all things; hold fast what is good.”

Bowman Walton

Bryden Black said...

I’ll hazard an explanation Bowman!

Your reference to “tiny Anglicans” conjured in my mind the mentality of a church that sought primarily to provide ‘services’ (puns intended) from the cradle to grave, to focus mostly therefore on “socialization” in the faith. On the contrary, a “missionary church” (as opposed to a church with the odd missionary society even) is fully aware of the world’s own socialization processes (whether neurological or psychological - or other - “processes” are to the fore matters little), which tend largely to socialize out of the Faith nowadays, in my own experience. In which case, any “enduring principles” need also to be viewed from within any particular church ethos, what one might term “establishment” versus “missionary”.

The example of “the dead” with which you started originally arose precisely out of a missionary setting, one that sought to convert classical pagan culture even as it also “plundered the Egyptians” for all their worth. And so, as the Church tries to either square the circle or runs in circles, as it so evidently succeeds in doing so frequently, I am far from convinced that it is quite as you set it up: a dialectic of this and that, on various fronts. Tho I did love this: “as the old Quakers used to insist, part of obedience to the Holy Spirit is not running ahead of him, is waiting for him to open the way in which we can act.” Which has resonances of exactly 2 John 9, and a (literary/ecclesial) provenance that addresses exactly no dialectic, but a rather strident either/or.

The post Christian setting of many a western church requires we drill down afresh (I’d say), not just to “enduring principles” - as if we might almost live again by them or even some Torah - but rather that we learn again how those base Christian communities (aka monasticism) spear-headed an entire missionary process. Their Rules of Faith were such that in “listening” well [Benedict is the reference] they were able to avoid both the Scylla and Charybdis of any dialectic, to chart a course that eventually converted an entire continent. The great difficulty however of even such a task is that the residue of a Christian legacy precisely among the current West wraps many a key “expression” in a form of discourse that many a Christian thinks ‘respectable’ - BUT which the likes of an Alasdair MacIntyre has shown to be drastically misshapen let alone “half-baked”. Our own neo-pagan legacy is far, far more problematic than that inherited first time around by the Early Church in their pagan setting. Which was why I jumped on what I thought was a model of church you were/might be proposing.

But if all this is utterly irrelevant to your point(s) ... apologies. Tho I do think it has something to say to the mechanisms of the Roman Synod, as I’ve followed them in many a report, as they’ve sought to juggle their own dialectical forces. [With some pathways surely headed right now for the rocks...! Massive “discernment” indeed is going to be required ...!]

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Bryden, for your explanation. Do you blog? If not, why not? :-)

The temperamental diversity of "tiny Anglicans"-- also noted by Gilbert & Sullivan ;-) -- foredooms all dreams of churches that are purely liberal or conservative. Therefore, some positions, generally at the poles of opinion, cannot be assimilated to the diversity of human nature as God has wisely created it, and as any real church must reflect it.

No reference to eg Niebuhr's *Christ of culture* was intended.

Polarised opinion, such as we have on That Topic, is not actually dialectical. More often, dialectic begins when frozen polarities are dismissed so that viable options nearer together can be freely compared. Not that dialectic alone is an infallible engine of truth-finding.

A missionary church of Niebuhr's *Christ transforming culture* type that you envision is not unattractive so far as you describe it. As you know from MacIntyre, critique of the zeitgeist is only the second step of many toward that. I look forward to further discussion with you and Ron about this.

Thanks again, Bryden, for your thoughtful attention to my comment.

Bryden Black said...

Ah yes; RN! Away from my shelves I've to rely on memory: lately I've been addressing three books all of which tackle again RN and culture. Hunter, Carson and Carter.
Together they reveal (inevitably) some skewing of prior assumptions by RN.
Most importantly perhaps, they encourage a serious distancing nowadays in our post Christendom context, one which discerns far more carefully what assumptions are in play and their respective sources (authorities).
That'll have to suffice for now ... ;)

Father Ron Smith said...

" The great churches exerted their influence, not by inventing and imposing anything, but by recognizing best practices when they saw them on the ground and by framing the doctrinal context within which they were received.

“Try all things; hold fast what is good.”

Dear Bowman, I see the absolute coherence between the last 2 paragraphs of you comment (above) on Oct.27. -I have been in Wellington and therefore away from my computer in the interim.

O don't think Bryden really believes that anything good can happen in the Church outside of definitive councils and biblical inerrancy. Therefore, he may be resistant to any change that the Holy Spirit may actually want to bring about outside of thsie set mechanisms.

Of course, the $100 question might be: How do we knoe whan the Holy Spirit is spaeking? Well, there are plenty of references to occasionsd of that happening in the Bible itself - before the setting in stone of the Canon.

The Christian virtue of HOPE - together with those of FAITH and LOVE, can sometimes bring up occasions of real revelation of how God can work in individual lives - quite apart from The Magisterium.

Sometimes though, it takes the Church (and the Magisteroium) time to accept that what has been acted upon has been of God's provision at the time.

Bryden Black said...

Never have you asked a better question Ron: How do we know when the Holy Spirit is speaking?

Yet I do not quite recognize my own hermeneutic in your description of me. For starters, the richness of the Holy Spirit's charismata belie your reductionist picture.

Tho you do have one point at least - which is not exactly mine but Barth's: One can not speak of God simply by speaking of man in a loud voice.

In multiple ways, and for many reasons, this is what I sense is very much the case for what passes as "the Holy Spirit speaking".

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Ron and Bryden, for today's comments on the Holy Spirit. I hope that Wellington and the West Coast have been salubrious.

Kevin Van Hoozer (and Tom Wright after him) has likened the authority of the scriptures to a well-crafted play by Shakespeare that is missing its final act. The cast must perform the play, but to do so, they must improvise that last act, and to make sense their improvisation has to fit all that was written in the first four. Because the work has the deep coherence of the mature Shakespeare, this requires far more than a simple consistency of story and character, although those are surely essential. Yet because it is a play and not a theorem, it is possible for actors with differing intuitions about the whole to complete the play in a way that the audience finds consilient.

Does Professor Van Hoozer understand the authority of scripture in the Church?

Bowman Walton

Father Ron Smith said...

Just love that word 'consilient' Bowman. Sounds very charismatic!
however, in part answer to Bryden, and having experienced to the full the charismatic movement in N.Z., via the history of St. Paul's Church, Symonds St., Auckland under Fr. Prebble; I became aware of the insistence of the primacy of their experience of the H.S. in the lives of quite a few people - mostly from the Pentecostal and other protestant Churches. One of the 'gifts' they seem to major on was that of 'discernment'. which usually meant that they knew something about you that you didn;t know yourself, and they thought they ought to tell you about.

When speaking of the work of the Holy Spirit in today's Church, I am usually referring to that activity of the Holy Spirit in the acramental life of the Church - i.e. Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist and Holy Order, where - consonant with the Word in Scripture - The Word Incarnate is invoked through the medium of the Spiril to inform and empower a person or persons to act in a particular way that will help to build up the body of Christ - for mission, not just maintenance. Saint Paul tells us that this - except in special cases of individuals, like himself, for instance - is a body-ministry "Where 2 or 3 are gathered together in my Name, there am I in the midst".

I appreaciet the theatrical paradigm, Bowman - es[pecially when one generally find the final act generally to afford surprises Not totally inconsistent with 'what has gone before' but, sometimes, surprising, nevertheless, bringing an eirenic balance to the theme.

A bit like, shall we say, the understanding of redemption in the O.T. as being the fulfillment of the Law; contrasted with the denouement of the final act, where Jesus takes that task upon himself, offering redemption in his wake - by his virtue, not our own..

Bryden Black said...

I'm familiar Bowman with both NTW's Five Acts (from NTPG - vol 1 of his magnum opus) and KvH's Drama of Doctrine. (Tho Tom has also subsequently written in 2005 The Last Word: Beyond the Bible Wars to a New Understanding of the Authority of Scripture.) An alternative which is similar but vitally different is Frances Young's Art of Performance: Twds a Theology of Holy Scripture.

Here we've firstly the basic musical score, which then secondly may be interpreted by sundry artists in differing yet complementary ways. But unlike jazz, where improvisation (your word) is core, she precisely speaks of a score firstly and interpretative performance secondarily. Here I sense something more substantial re Holy Writ, which others, following NTW & KvH, somewhat, have loosened from its due moorings.

(Yes; the final word insinuates a dual source theory! Where the Barque's Tradition has supplemented, even surpassed, Holy Writ, once loosed from its moorings to sail free!)

Paul in 1 & 2 Cor embodies just such an interpretative performance as envisaged by FY when he boldly states, "imitate me, as I imitate Christ." 2 Cor especially envisages two alternative kinds of performance: one that is OTT, that of the super apostles, the other a managerial form of key performance indicators pursued by the legalists. Paul decries both! For hisimitation follows that of Torah's being written in the heart by the Spirit, whose freedom is precisely Christ-like service, his being captured in Christ's victory parade, eschewing his being bonded to strange gods, since the light of Christ has shone into his heart.

Here Torah (Scripture) is fulfilled incarnationally, lived out by the Spirit's power, as the Father newly recreates his world. Where it touches upon our own present dilemmas is in the two sets of opponents to Paul in 2 Cor: super apostles' claim to "know the Spirit" in some new revelation; rigid, literal fundamentalists as legalists. Neither are exactly as Paul proposes.

So; what of us ...?

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Bryden and Ron, for swift answers to a question that is not easily answered. I had just finished what seemed to be a good reply to Ron when Bryden's thoughts appeared on my screen. You will both prefer a single, integrated response to the main points you each raise. For now, a fact, a question, and an observation.

The word *consilience* has been popularised in, and maybe coined for, the science writing of Edward O. Wilson.

Ron's thoughts on spiritual gifts left me wondering whether he works with a *personal* theology of the Trinity (eg Karl Barth) or a *classical* one (eg St Thomas Aquinas). Very roughly, the former approach sees the believer in Christ in relations to each of the Three, while the latter sees a believer in a dyadic relation to "God" without differentiation. This should not be a shiboleth-- some *classical* theists do well, some *personal* trinitarians disappoint-- but Bryden and I seem to belong to the *personal* tribe. I could leave that in the background, but for Ron's wry and thoughtful reflections on charismatics and charismata. Ron?

We three may all be on common ground insofar as we at least provisionally accept some aesthetic metaphor for the Church's use of scripture. But to me at least, the metaphors-- unfinished play, improvised jazz, interpreted score-- say different things. I need to think about that before replying on Monday.

Bowman Walton

Father Ron Smith said...

A short answer, Bowman, to your question about my understanding and/or experience of the Triune God: I do not see the Three Persons as in any way in conflict. However, I love the simplified understanding of God in the act of Creation: Father, breathing The Word, by the breath of Holy Spirit at the Creation. Each Person distinctive and yet at Unity - a Mystery that is yet logical, reasonable and satisfactory, for me..

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Ron, for your short and sufficient answer. None of us see the Persons as in any sort of conflict. Bryden and I surely share your devotion to the mystery.

Though not a Pentecostal, I do understand the Holy Spirit in a way more ecumenical and Cappadocian than Barthian-- He is equal to the Father and to the Son; like the Father and the Son, He has proper works; the founding of the Church at Pentecost, the self-disclosure of God in the scriptures, and the *realism* of the sacraments are among those works.

The East takes it for granted that there is a personal charism of *diakritikos*, and an ethos with several distinctive practises arises from that supposition (eg the global *connexion* of Elder Ephraim). The mere idea of such a gift is somewhat subversive, of course, but the relative anarchy of the charismatic practice is something that I do not yet understand.

Bowman Walton