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Monday, November 1, 2021

Looking East in Spring: enjoying and making sense of Rowan Williams (2/n)

(The title of the post, and the book referred to in the post are introduced in the post below, from last week).

There are some lovely moments in this book - one might even (taking a cue from a citation below) call them epiphanic - illuminating, enlightening, opening up new insight(s) into the truth of God.

Here are a couple of those moments, for this week ...

"not a programme or an ideology, but an epiphany" (p. 7)

That is (in my paraphrase of that whole page) we shouldn't compress what it means to be a Christian or our "understanding of the kingdom of God" or what it means for the church to be church into an ideology or a programme (a course, a cycle of worship services and meetings, a specific application of  theology to life). When (to cite something else from that page) "finite being is summoned to a communion with infinite trinitarian being in which the act and purpose of that infinite love is ... a permeating or saturating presence" we are zooming beyond "ideology" and "programme" to an experience of the divine life which overwhelms us, which floods us with light - the light of pure truth, truth beyond text and ordinary experience - to epiphany - God breaking into our lives.

Then, this paragraph, on the "social Trinity" in the course of discussion of what "filiation" means, that is, "we are adopted into the relation that Jesus enjoys with the Father and [] we are enabled to pray with his prayer [Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6; Farewell Discourses of Fourth Gospel] (pp. 71-72):

"The maxim that 'the Holy Trinity is our social programme' can readily be misunderstood as a naive picture of divine and human 'sociality' assimilated to one another, the persons of the Trinity being thought of as separate subjects brought into harmony; but there is a sense in which it can perhaps be defended. The self-communicating, self-repeating life of God is such that its activity sets up a chain of implication for us, whereby we see that what we desire for our own healing is inseparable from the desire for the healing of others - because the communication of who and what God is entails the sharing of an energy that cannot but make for personal communion, and thus cannot but make for a state of affairs in which each agent is involved in bringing alive in every other the reality of self-communicating/self-repeating life - life that gives life and so give the liberty to give life all over again."

In the language of a bear with a much smaller brain than that of ++Rowan and the Orthodox theologians he is engaging with, if the Trinitarian life of God, received through our adoption into the relation which Jesus enjoys with the Father, means we are made whole (healed) and, moreover, are energized by the same power of love which has filiated us into the Trinitarian communion of love, then we cannot but want to both share that love with others and pray with Jesus that they also will be made whole in the same way that we are; and such healed individuals, necessarily will be healed not only as discrete individuals, but also as individuals who relate to others, and so the society of humanity is also healed. Thus the Holy Trinity is our social programme!

Next week, likely a bit of good stuff on liturgy ...

25 comments:

  1. I hope that all hereabouts had cheerfully Protestant thoughts on Reformation Sunday. If any don't know how to do that, Nadia Bolz-Weber (channeling Robert W Jenson) can get you started: https://the-corners.substack.com/p/sin-boldly?

    BW

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  2. Not long ago, I noted that those who inveigh most adamantly on That Topic and the Other Topic are very often surprisingly silent on the one Topic than which no greater can be conceived, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. They care about the former enough to-- well, we've read it. But they are not moved to comment on God. Or will this week be different?

    BW

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  3. Apparently not, Bowman!

    The depth of our faith/discipleship is measured by our journey into the heart of God, and that heart is “trifold”.

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  4. Alas, Peter, the evidence is here for the whole web to see.

    If X is asking us to believe (usually) his views on religious matter Y, then of course disciples wonder: has he qualified himself with some-- any-- upstream comment that suggests that he knows God? If not, why read it? We don't take wine recommendations from teetotalers.

    A cheer and a half for free speech. But (non-) listeners are the sovereigns of their minds. And we're all very busy, especially when we're online.

    BW

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  5. Postscript

    A few of + Peter's readers may be surprised by the sceptical temper of my comment just above.

    Is it really likely that people who are not communicants of any church anywhere are inveighing for or against Communion causes at ADU? Not at all.

    But even if we knew for certain that they were churchgoers somewhere, that bare fact would not warrant the thought that their prejudices and dispositions are Christ's own. All of us can think of persons in churches whose opinions seem distant from the ethos of Jesus. And since churches are (as Father Ron so often says) hospitals for sinners, not resthomes for saints, and (as I so often say) self-selected by class and culture rather than oh regeneration by the Holy Spirit, we have no *prima facie* reason to credit the dicta of their individual members on much of anything. They really could just be cranks destined for hell because they enjoy hating others so much that they do it for fun on + Peter's blog.

    But still, a devout reader may protest, isn't it possible that some who do know God truly find it easier to write ruminations and agitprop than meditations and prayers? That question has a long Protestant history.

    Apart from the hard cases (eg brain damage), all sides see that unequal ease as a manifestation of sin. Those leaning to the Lutherish side of the debate believe that we are justified-- but obviously not sanctified or called-- in just that state. Those leaning to the Reformed side see no salvation without regeneration and no regeneration without a delight in God that normally makes godly sentences. Either way, if one cannot talk about Christ, then one is not in Christ. And boring for disciples to read.

    So John Wesley emphasised extempore prayer and hymn-singing to develop in everyone just this facility in Christ. And shrewdly noted (as others have done) that children normally have this facility almost organically, so that the Lord himself said that one can only enter the kingdom as a child.

    And so, following the weight of Protestant tradition, itself supported by the testimony of apostles and saints, my answer is: No. A person who would rather hate others here than love God does not know know Him truly. Does he have hope of salvation? While he has breath. Is he in the kingdom? Demonstrably not. Are his comments worth reading? Not as expressions from the mind of Christ that the Holy Spirit gives to his disciples.

    Well, souls are not always either/or. What if they both shake a verbal fist at real or imagined enemies here but also write with a lyrical joy about time with God? Bryden Black, who shares some of my influences, saw this as immaturity rather than nescience. That is, fist-shaking disciples do know God somewhat, but not well enough to have been changed by the Holy Spirit into Luther's *little Christs* who have the Father's transformative love for all he has made. I-- and I suspect you too, dear reader-- scroll past the toxic stuff until I see something closer to the cross of Jesus.

    BW





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  6. LOGIC NOTE

    If we ignore fist-shaking hate comments from persons who do not write persuasively about God, are we illogically dismissing arguments that may be sound?

    No. Using our precious time wisely, we are ignoring content without credibility, not evaluating whatever fragmentary arguments may happen to be lodged in them somewhere. Having more highly credible writing online than we will ever live to read, we rank our choices. It is the fate of unpromising writing not to be read.

    And down-ranking hate talk makes sense even apart from our love of the God who is Love. Neurologically, anger shuts down the perception, empathy, dispersed processing, etc useful to thinking and dialogue, but not to action, especially violent action. Happy warriors seem dumber than they would otherwise be because they actually are.

    Of course, if one is Theodin at Gondor leading the Riders of Rohan against orcs from Mordor, hate can be sublimely useful. But a comment box at say ADU is not much like that.

    Especially in threads like these, down-ranking hate reading is also efficient because it is usually too brief to make a case. To be persuaded of a conclusion that surprises us, we need to see how it follows step by step from what we already reliably know. Understanding this, mature adults persuade with step-wise arguments that respectful but sceptical minds can follow. Under the spell of *motivated reasoning*, however, hate writers skip the search for common ground and the stacking of plausible steps, and go straight to insults and factoids. Since they are farting in the general direction of readers, but not actually addressing their hearts and minds, it is reasonable to turn away to better writing from more judicious minds.

    Does our control of our own time and attention deprive anyone of the writerly right of free speech? Of course not. And it exercises our own readerly right of free association. Public discourse, never mind churchly discourse, ignores much that a therapist is paid to hear. Trees will listen to anything.

    In this naughty world, dear believing reader, you and I must sometimes oppose things. Providentially, there is one sane way for us to do this.

    Before all else, believe that Jesus gave himself for your sins, and not for yours only, but for the sins of the whole world. Then "love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." And then, listen from the heart to those you must persuade. Finally, if you still think you can, do the work of reasoned persuasion from ideas that you share with them. St Paul's sermon to pagans of the Areopagus is a canonical example.

    BW

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  7. All that having been said, Peter, one can very much enjoy your OP and especially your meaty 6:16 of 11/4.

    Long ago, N T Wright penned a novel presentation of the Trinity. The OT presents YHWH under several guises-- Law, Wisdom, Angel of the Lord, Whirlwind, etc-- which the Resurrection event distilled into just three Persons.

    On the OP-- with perichoresis in mind-- it's absorbimg to meditate on how say Wisdom or Law remain in the koinonia of the Three.

    Your lapidary 6:16 suggests or declares that through the lifespan souls in Christ follow this arc in the canon itself. At first, they know only the inscrutable transcendence of a god not yet recognized as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. At their several ends, they know the Father's creative will, the Son's reconciliation of all things, and the Holy Spirit's opening of pathways into the new aeon.

    These are two very different frames for a human life. The world appears as a much harsher place to those who know only an implacable god. Calling, gift, and providence are richer, livelier notions to those who know the Three behind them.

    BW


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  8. COROLLARY

    "Batter my heart, thou Three-Person'd God..." -- John Donne

    "I bind unto my soul today the strong name of the Trinity..." -- St Patrick of Ireland

    The Three are intrinsically fascinating. Human souls were made to know, adore, and enjoy them forever. The thrill we feel at clouds, stars, waterfalls, meteor showers, and trees is a foretaste of some of what we will feel about God by the end.

    Those at the farther end of + Peter's arc enjoy a lot of this foretaste. Down the millennia, many of them have written directly or obliquely to say "O taste and see that the Lord is good!"

    Thinking backward from St John's revelation of the descent of the New Jerusalem toward our own aeon, we would expect intimate knowledge of God to draw on all the capabilities of regenerate souls. Workaday factual thinking is in the mix, and so are value judgements, but as in the Revelation, an intimate walk with God also moves feelings, imagination, action, and even a sense of fun.

    From author to author, which is to say from soul to soul, the mix has different proportions, just as we see elsewhere in life. And as the mix in each of us changes through the lifespan, so we see it change in the friends of God. Julian of Norwich's Showings were vividly visionary from the beginning, but her discursive intelligence deepens her second edition.

    Now few will deny that *ice cream* tastes one way if you lick the words on the box but a very different way if you open the box and eat its contents. Yet many or most people infer that, if the creeds bore them, the Trinity must be boring.

    In exactly one way, this can be true: if one is just over the line from unbelief, then one is still afraid of God. We expect this in converts, but also see it in many who have settled for justification without sanctification or vocation. Why would they settle for so much less? My guess: C21 preaching, almost no matter who is doing it, rarely models in words a soul fully open to the triune God.

    BW

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  9. "Why would they settle for so much less? My guess: C21 preaching, almost no matter who is doing it, rarely models in words a soul fully open to the triune God."

    That is a challenge, Bowman, for preachers ...!

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  10. Yes, Peter, and a topic in its own right. But some musicians do it as a matter of course--

    https://youtu.be/CQBZ1dBNz28 or https://youtu.be/VRpKtZrSTeg

    https://youtu.be/8xQOb51qZ-c and https://youtu.be/kOQClgNRoPc with https://youtu.be/-l40S5e90KY

    We may have become a bit narrow in our use of words.

    BW

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  11. If the unity of the Triune God is what we Christians are drawn into by Baptism And Eucharist, this might infer that those withdrawing themselves from that union, by any act of intentional schism (withdrawing oneself and encouraging others into schism, could be one of the most serious of our human misdemeanors. If that withdrawal then is prompted by human pride (a sense of moral superiority, perhaps) then is our faith vain?

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  12. A lovely, encouraging MESSAGE today from the Bishop of Rome:

    "SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 7, 2021

    “The joy of the Christian is not a fleeting emotion or a simple human optimism, but the certainty of being able to face every situation under God’s loving gaze, with the courage and strength that come from Him… Without joy, faith becomes a rigorous and oppressive exercise, and risks ailing with sadness… Let us ask ourselves this: are we joyful Christians? Am I a joyful Christian or not? Do we spread joy or are we dull, sad people, with a funeral face? Remember that there is no holiness without joy!”
    Pope Francis

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  13. Yes, Father Ron, intentional factionalism in the Body is intrinsically evil. But in our time, the perpetrators of this are usually, using the Roman phrase, *invincibly ignorant*. We know this from the appalling way they treat others in their Continuum. "Father, forgive them; they know not what they do."

    BW

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  14. Postscript

    Suppose that the Church of A declares itself in communion with the Church of B.

    But then further suppose that the bishops of A send bishops to the land of B who were not invited by, and will not participate in, the Church of B.

    Now, in B, the Body has two episcopates; the Church of A has divided it. The earliest canons to condemn such interventions date from the C2-C4.

    Reality check. If the CoA does this even to the CoB, with which it agrees, then it demonstrably does not know what unity and disunity are in the Body. Nothing it thereafter says about church (dis)unity is credible. A person formed by the CoA will be *invincibly ignorant* of the nature of unity in the Body.

    BW

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  15. A final thought, Peter, on this OP.

    The Trinity can be our program, not just for society, but even for churches, because adoration of these Persons induces in us the Creator's disposition toward his creatures. That disposition opens a Way of life that is distinct from more idolatrous paths and only somewhat imaginable in advance.

    A friendly sceptic, watching the Body grapple with a burning social issue like oh fox-hunting, is not wondering whether there is a solution in the Bible, the Roman magisterium, synodical resolutions, etc. If there is, he can look it up online. The question always is: what difference does God himself make in human affairs?

    BW

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  16. Indeed, Bowman!

    (There are no foxes in the Blessed Isles :).)

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  17. Just flying ones,

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  18. No foxes, to be sure (but plenty of rabbits and possums, and nobody is bothered about hunting these).
    But if BW is wondering about a "burning social issue" in New Zealand, note that the country now has medically-caused suicide (I will not say "medically assisted" because that sounds evasive) - as already exists in The Netherlands and Belgium, as well as Washington State, I believe.
    I wonder how the Anglican Church in New Zealand responded to this. Will Anglican hospital and hospice chaplains help patients more speedily end their lives? How do Anglicans work their way through this issue? Or is it yet another area of "good disagreement"? At what point does the incoherence become too great to bear? This is part of what Michael Nazir-Ali was facing as an Anglican bishop.

    William Greenhalgh

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  19. Dear William
    We Anglicans have not done a lot of work on the matter yet.
    Interestingly the NZ Catholic bishops have done some work on it ... and been roundly criticised already by "Archbishop Cranmer" (see link at top of me latest ADU blog).
    I hope MNA knows what he has let himself in for!

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  20. Yes I have seen the 'Archbishop Cranmer'piece and it does not appear to me that the NZ Catholic Bishops have done a good job here.
    I am surprised (and a little dismayed) that NZ Anglicans have not prepared themselves for this, but you will forgive me (I hope) if I say I am not too susprised because for some years it has seemed to me that Anglicanism is largely a weather vane of culture rather than a guide. I fear that NZ Catholics may also be affected by the agnostic drift of a post-Christian culture. But Catholicism always distinguishes between the Magisterium, which is about doctrine, and the pastoral ofice, which is guided by prudential considerations. A generous presumption has long been the guiding principle here,
    I dare say Father Michael has weighed matters carefully. One joins the Catholic Church out of conviction over the Church's teaching and sacraments, and not for the quality of its congregational singing!

    William Greenhalgh

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  21. William, I'm intrigued tha you still haven't answered my question about which part of the Christian family you belong to. It would be good to know this because that would help those of us who want to converse with you to better understand your basis of faith. I guess, from what you've already told us, that you are either a Roman Catholic or of the R.C./Ordinariate. One of the problems, for me with the RCO, is that it is neither one nor the other - preferring the bits of each that one prefers to adhere to. I know, from the evidence of a friend of mine in the U.K. who moved to the Ordinariate but found his ministry was not fully accepted by Roman Catholics. I suggest that MNA, having forsaken doctrinal Anglicanism, still does not fully accept the Roman Magisterium.

    Regarding your opinion of the N.Z. Catholic bishops, do you not consider them capable of practising the fullness of the Catholic Faith, in view of their eirenic approach to the pastoral problems of N.Z.'s 'End of Life' provision? In the same vein, would you think it morally wrong for a person to opt for the 'No Resuscitation' option when facing surgery that could lead to a disability outcome? What is at issue here primarily, I think, is whether a human being has the right to their own decisions about their human mortality.

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  22. Nobody believes the Pythagorean Theorem because of Pythagoras's "basis of faith."

    BW

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  23. Seen on a garbage truck this morning-- Ephesians iv 31.

    BW

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  24. Yes, Bowman - especially when one hears about the recent '8th Trumpet' from the Global South. This seems to have moved the G.S. Primates one step closer to their step-child GAFCON. In their repudiation of the Gospel outreach of the rest of us towards ALL of God's children, irrespective of race, both GSAF and GAFCON are now publicly rejecting koinonia fellowship with the rest of us sinners, who bear the mark of Christ upon our brow - in common with them. A sad and testing time for the Anglican Communion - which is no less divided that those in the roman Catholic Church who argue about the qualifications for receiving the Body and blood of Christ. Proclaiming one's own worthiness while deying the 'worthiness of others cannot help the mission of Christ in our needy world. Lord have mercy, Mary pray!

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  25. Be of good cheer, Father Ron.

    Our unity is a divine gift; unipolarity and uniformity beyond that are Babel.

    The Father's will is secure. If a synod or prelate someplace denounces the law of gravity, the local cattle will not suddenly float up over the treetops.

    And why shouldn't Brazilians and Egyptians talk to Nigerians and Kenyans?

    BW

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