Sunday, October 4, 2020

Participation: God in the world; our deification; our ecumenical fellowship

I was very helped in sermon prep this past week by reading a review in Church Times.

The review prompted a bit of a trawl into the subject of "participation" - more on the review and the trawl below - and led to me offering the following thought this morning when celebrating the re-opening of St David's Belfast, a Hurst Seagar church here in Christchurch, which recently has undergone restoration of its woodwork, new and improved lighting (which show off the woodwork), better heating, a new font and new communion rails.

That thought was that it is a mistake to drive a wedge between church as people and church as building because while church as people is important to God (e.g. 1 Peter 2:1-10, our epistle reading), so is church as building because church buildings represent the participation of God in creation as God gifts to us wood and stone and grants to humanity gifts of design and craftmanship.

The review which caught my eye was by Paul Avis (who else!) and it was on the 2021 book by Paul Anthony Dominiak, Richard Hooker: The Architecture of  Participation.

The Amazon blurb is:

"Richard Hooker's Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity has long been acknowledged as an influential philosophical, theological and literary text. While scholars have commonly noted the presence of participatory language in selected passages of Hooker's Laws, Paul Anthony Dominiak is the first to trace how participation lends a sense of system and coherency across the whole work.

Dominiak analyses how Hooker uses an architectural framework of 'participation in God' to build a cohesive vision of the Elizabethan Church as the most fitting way to reconcile and lead English believers to the shared participation of God.

First exploring Hooker's metaphysical architecture of participation in his accounts of law and the sacraments, Dominiak then traces how this architecture structures cognitive participation in God, as well as Hooker's political vision of the Church and Commonwealth. The volume culminates with a summary of how Hooker provides a salutary resource for modern ecumenical dialogue and contemporary political retrievals of participation."

Hooker himself does not say much directly about "participation" and no doubt Dominiak's thesis will be critiqued in terms of whether he rightly takes those few things as setting out the architecture of Hooker's thought. The five critical things Hooker says which catalyse Dominiak's thesis are:

"all things in the world are said in some sort to seek the highest, and to covet more or less the participation of God himself" (I.5.2)

"‘No good is infinite but only God: therefore he our felicitie and blisse. Moreover desire tendeth unto union with that it desireth. If then in him we be blessed, it is by force of participation and conjunction with him’." (I.11.2)

"how God is in Christ, then how Christ is in us, and how the sacramentes doe serve to make us pertakers of Christ" (V.50.3)

"Participation is that mutual inward hold which Christ hath of us and wee of him, in such sort that each possesseth other by waie of speciall interest propertie and inherent copulation" (V.56.1)

"wee are therefore adopted sonnes of God to eternall life by participation of the onlie begotten Son of God, whose life is the wellspringe and cause of oures" (V.56.7).

Dominak's book, incidentally, is fearsomely expensive, but the doctoral thesis on which it is based is obtainable here

Naturally for a monograph which is demanding for even the most academic amongst us, a review helps to understand, and to relate the importance of the book to those of us without time to dive into the dense depths of Dominiak's scholarship.

In his review, Avis makes this point which connects to some recent threads of comments here on ADU, and which generally touches on that age old chestnut, that somewhere between Jesus of Nazareth and what Christians think today, a terrible Hellenistic corruption changed plain peasant parables into a sophisticated theology which falsely transformed a radical rabbi into God Incarnate:

"As Dr Dominiak shows, the idea that binds the Platonic philosophical-mystical tradition and Christian, biblical, theology together is participation in God. Though, until recently, the idea of participation in God through grace has been largely neglected in Anglican theology, it is found, not only in Hooker, but in his near-contemporary Lancelot Andrewes and in the subsequent High Church tradition. We also see it in the Cambridge Platonists, John Keble, E. B. Pusey, F. D. Maurice, B. F. Westcott, Charles Gore, William Temple, Michael Ramsey, and Rowan Williams, to name but a few.

To hold this doctrine and to live by it, we need to believe that God has poured God’s power, goodness, and beauty into the creation; that the incarnation has elevated and transfigured human nature; that the sacraments are effective means of union with the Triune God; and that the Holy Spirit never ceases to energise and purify the Church."


"Participation in God connects with the mysterious text in 2 Peter 1.4: “that you may become partakers of the divine nature”. The concept of “divinisation” or theosis, found particularly in the Orthodox tradition, is viewed with suspicion by those who believe that it transgresses the boundary between Creator and creation, divinity and humanity.

But Dominiak shows that deification has many shades of meaning and that such fears are misplaced. He brings together “participation” and the key biblical concept of ecumenical theology, koinonia (fellowship, communion). He suggests that Hooker’s doctrine of participation can be a bridge to closer agreement with the Orthodox Churches."

There is a lot to reflect on here.

What excites me (apart from a helpful insight towards the construction of this morning's sermon) here is:

- claiming Hooker's place in that "best of all theology" pantheon, where the great theologians help us ordinary Christians understand the involvement of God in our lives, in the world we live in along with the purpose of our lives in relation to God;

- setting out how the depths of Hooker's thought relates to the simplest of Christian concepts: fellowship;

- offering a vision for the universal church: all who participate in the God who participates in them may have fellowship with one another.


Anonymous said...

Read it all twice-- + Peter's OP (yes, again), Paul Avis's review, and even (if you've the stamina) Dominiak's dissertation.

Then you will be able to think sturdily Anglican thoughts. Never again will you need to lean dourly on a Reformed crutch, stumble helplessly into the Rome Trap, or even (although it is pleasant) sail to exotic Byzantium.

More subtly, you will have a family in the Body that defines itself by what it shares with each of the families, rather than by how it wars with one, or each, or even all of them. Which, if you worship the One who came to reconcile all to God, is the superior way to be. There can be no warriors in the peaceable Kingdom.

And when you look up one or another of the 39A, you will be pleased by the way each artifact fits the participative vision of the BCP rather than perplexed that the former resiles from scholastic errors whilst the latter transmits the older tradition. It was to restore that tradition that the accretions were scraped away.

Contented Anglicans are Protestants who understand participation in God through Christ more or less as Hooker did. Full stop.


Father Ron said...

Thankyou, Bishop, for your invitation to us to consider the implication of our call to theosis. My understanding of our sacramenbtal participation in the Eucharist is just that. I use this prayer at the co-mixture of water and wine in the preparation of the elements: "By the mystery of this water and wine, may we come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity".

Father Ron said...

Thankyou, B.W. However.... I think it would be safe to assume that Protestant Anglicanism does not contain the WHOLE truth about Christianity.

We do owe a great deal of gratitude to both Roman and Eastern Catholicism for their distinct contribution to a more eclectic understanding of what we now know of the Christian Enterprise (Now "Through a glass darkly"). One day, as Scripture tells us, we shall, hopefully "see Him face to face". We maybe surprised at who we see standing with us at the Great Revelation!

Bryden Black said...

Stet! Yet thereafter, if there be no due, true and/or faithful display of said participation, there is tragically ... naught. Yet even then, there may be a way to recover it: 400 Chapters by St Maximus!

Peter Carrell said...

Thanks Bowman and Bryden.
This is an important OP - not because I wrote it - but because with Dominiak's help we get closer to the truth about the church of God.
Unfortunately, it is not controversial (relative to today's controversies) so not much engagement :)

Anonymous said...

"...It is not controversial relative to today's controversies so not much engagement"

Every Anglican quarrel of the past half-century (and perhaps a few in the next one too) has arisen from differences between those inured to the participative divinity of the Prayerbook and those who follow some more individualistic and Reformed alternative to it. If Anglicans understood the theological ideas upstream of their positions in "today's controversies," this OP might have been among the most controversial in years.

But they don't. And it isn't. Why not?

Bryden-- welcome back!-- once called this "pragmatic avoidance." A good phrase for what we see. But one still wonders from afar how believers can live with it.

When Liberals were latitudinarians loosely mediating the differences between rigorous Evangelicals and neo-Thomist Anglo-Catholics, they often appealed to the good of the realm to negotiate a working consensus within the Body. To any postmodern today, such an appeal is a faithless category mistake, but to a modern who still thought of his wider society as a *corpus christianum*, it seemed reasonable and even dutiful and generous.

So began the habits of (1) framing religious problems as about social ethics rather than about revealed faith, and (2) ignoring any religious question in the Body that has not first excited society at large.

These habits have always appealed to churchmen who paint their houses to match their neighbours' and have never read a chapter of theology in their lives. This is religion for those who cannot live without church but will not live with it either.

The same habitus has perennially frustrated more devoutly adventurous souls whether Liberal, Evangelical, or Anglo-Catholic. In practice, these worldly reflexes deny the Body the oxygen for a life of its own. So then gasping believers run to some tribe with a ready supply of it. Thus are we divided.

Until modernity slipped away, these habits kept a sort of truce. Now, what really is the use of them? And beginning from where we are, what would be better?


Anonymous said...

"Every English gentleman had a theological library."

-- J. I. Packer

"Theology is the most fun you can have with your clothes on."

-- Alan Torrance

This would be better: a discourse in the God-world that is more like that of the Art-world. Look at art writing wherever you can find it, and you will see that it is mainly about art that works. Significant works are reviewed, usually charitably. Exhibitions are assessed, as much for the organising idea as for the works themselves. Careers are chronicled, not as resumes of posts attained but as phases in the production of oeuvres. Some art writing is also travel writing that describes what is worth seeing in say Santiago or Thessaloniki. Writing about controversies in the Art-world is about a tenth of the whole, and most of these are written by third parties about friendly differences of opinion. In a more normal year than this one, a few articles a year explore art that resonates with the politics of the moment.

The general idea behind most art writing is that Art is good human fun, and that this fun is had everywhere, but also that art works have locations, so that writers and photographers are needed to close the distance between the reader in say Christchurch and some object or performance in Sydney or Mexico City or Montreal or Dublin etc.

There is no attempt to cover synods of artists because there are none. Indeed, it seems intrinsic to the nature of Art as of Science that voting cannot settle anything of interest about it. What can happen in both fields is that a broad consensus can evolve through time as historians or theoreticians try to articulate what we all see and artists or scientists do things that test those provisional canons by doing something with them. There is no other way to interesting truth that enriches a tradition.

Most of my outlying opinions here at ADU are traceable to the sense that the real God-world is much more like the Art-world and the Science-world than like the world of civil Politics. This is true all the way down because the canonical scriptures document an accumulation, not a codification, of revelation. And so in continuity with that revelation we are usually attracted to something made or done that applies what theologians try to articulate for the Body as a whole. And the health of the soul is in being attracted to as many such good things as Providence puts in one's way.

Ironically, the discourse around That Topic confirmed my eccentric view from top to bottom. Every opposing idea of authority was shattered by some rejection by the Body. But if say Nairobi had shown the world a truly effective ministry to homosexuals that could be written about, photographed, or visited, many might have been attracted who could never have been persuaded. Absent such a success, argument is noise. For bible-soaked people, a good work needs no human validation.