Friday, December 30, 2022

Last Post for 2022

Nearly time for the annual blog holiday (hope to resume on Monday 16 January 2023) so one last post in 2022 to ruminate a little on a things Anglican and otherwise. A pot pouri not an essay.

Different perspectives within the same history

Having posted recently about differing perspectives in the gospel birth-infancy narratives, it has been an interesting Christmas for me and my family. We've had a very pleasant Christmas, with lots of good family time, amazing food, and, in an inclement summer, some gorgeous weather on Christmas Day itself. That's one perspective. In another perspective, particularly if I was of a gloomy cast of mind, I could focus on a telling in which I emphasised that the run up to Christmas was more stressful than usual, one family member had to isolate because of Covid, another has been in hospital, and nearly every day I have thought about a swim at the beach, the weather has been unsuitably cold ... and thus make our Christmas narrative sound very dark and depressing! Life is a mixture, a series of complications, of challenges and inspirations, of difficulties to overcome which are also opportunities to demonstrate love and compassion.

Why are fundamentalist followers of religions so mean and nasty (at least on Twitter)?

My rumination here builds on a foundation of seeing numerous instances on Twitter where, say, on "Catholic Twitter", a Catholic tweets something favourable about the Pope [let me repeat, the Pope, who is, after all, Catholic) and then the thread of comments following is a pile on against the tweeter and/or the Pope, lamenting the reality of Vatican 2, bewailing papal persecution of [ultra] conservative Catholics, alleging this heresy and that apostasy (of current Catholic leaders). And so on.

Protestant Twitter is equally problematic. Just the other day popular singer Amy Grant announced that she was hosting her niece's same-sex wedding on her ranch. A pile on of tweets and comments ensued. Mostly along the lines of "She's no longer a Christian." No less a figure than Franklin Graham publicly bewailed her iniquity.

Intriguingly, around Christmas Day, I saw a tweet by a senior Islamic figure in the UK, wishing the church leaders such as ++Welby and Cardinal Nichols a happy Christmas. The pile on of comments to this pleasant tweet came straight from the (ultra) conservative Catholic and/or Protestant playbook!! How could this man not know that the Qu'ran specifically forbade wishing the infidel greetings on their festivals etc.

Commonly, across such threads of bile, is a fundamentalism of the form, "Since our sacred text(s) say ABC, your proposing DEF is wrong and thus you (and/or the person you defend) are apostate/unfaithful/infidel."

This approach to defending the faith is just mean and nasty. 

The  greater difficulty is that in a world tired of religion and its tropes, the God behind such adherence to fundamentals comes across as a being not particularly kind or cheerful enought to spend eternity with!

How resilient is Anglicanism?

There is an argument that the genius of Anglicanism lies in its ability to accommodate. An outbreak of evangelical revival? No problem. A series of tracts which gain traction towards a retrieval of things Catholic from before the English Reformation: there is room in the inn! A bishop exploring the edges of theological sanity with wonderings as to the physical nature of the resurrection? Let's see where this goes (while keeping fingers crossed that just one or two bishops will be so minded as to publicly share their musings). We're good, in other words, at finding ways to keep people in, rather than drive them out. (Yes, I know what you know, that there have been exceptions to this rule, notably our failure to accommodate Wesleyanism.)

Another way of thinking about what it means to accommodate differences within the Anglican house is that we have an ability (with limits) to adapt what we do to flow with needs of the hour, changes in local communities, and developments in socialization (i.e. the ways we prefer to gather as social beings). Thus, in this parish, an 8 am service is different to a 10 am service is different to a 4 pm Messy Church on a Saturday, and many difference groups within the parish are catered for re tastes in styles of worship. Or, in that parish, a penchant for social justice activism or for charismatic prayer and praise or for silent contemplation is catered for by adapting current small groups meeting on weekday nights. Then, beyond the territorial confines of parish boundaries, the bishop permits gatherings variously styled as "Fresh Expression" or "Pioneer church" or Something Catchy, meeting in a pub or a library or a surf club, as possible ways and means of connecting the gospel with people unlikely to ever cross the threshold of a classic church building. 

It is not difficult, surveying Anglicanism around the globe, to see that a lot of accommodation of adaptation is going on (as well as corollaries, such as intense debate in the CofE about "the future of the parish"). In a time of ebbing numbers for Western Anglican churches, we simply have to try new things in a fast changing set of societies united by a rapidly evolving culture.

I suggest this is Anglicanism also showing another characteristic: resilience.

The way 2023 is shaping up (e.g. numbers at classic or traditional Sunday worship services generally lower after the ravages of Covid lockdowns) we will need to be resilient as never we have had to be for a long time before.

Looking back on Lambeth 2022

That was a really good time!

Happy New Year for 2023 :)


Father Ron said...

Dear Bishop Peter: A good reflection from you on the 'State of Anglicanism' as being inclusive rather than fundamentalistically exclusive, on the basis that; 'I'm Right! You're wrong.

A agree that, broadly speaking (which ignores the fundamentalists in either direction) we inheritors of the historic Church pf England parameters of 'Faith and Order' guidelines are, mostly, open to a new understanding of both Scripture and Tradition - in ways that enhance - rather than prohibit - their working out in the context of the world as it is today. Many of us are open to questioning how, if Jesus were to be amongst us today, would he deal with issues of justice, equality and common human rights?

A sure sign, however, of a lack of openness to the realities of today's world, is the degree to which various militantly evangelical sodalities (like Sydney's Gafcon-influenced diocesan publication 'Anglican Church League'), is their recent public condemnation of the way in which our newly-installed King Charles has indicated his inclusion of EVERYONE of Faith - together with the much broader cast of those with no faith - in his sovereign domain, thus declaring their right - as human beings - to exercise the gift of free will; given to us ALL by our Creator, God. He sees the task of Christian evangelism as being the manifestation of an attraction to the Person of Christ through our action and attitudes towards believers and unbelievers - rather than a legalistic form of coercion in a strictly theocratic state.

Thus, following on the example of former Pope John XXIII, of blessed memory, who initiated - during his papacy - a meeting, in Assisi, of ALL religious leaders, to discuss possible commonalities of an understanding of God as Creator and Redeemer; King Charles, in his recent Christmas Message to the commonwealth, declared his domain free from the injustice that can still occur in the despotic rule of a religious fiefdom - such as the present situation in Afghanistan, where a woman's right to higher education has now been withdrawn.

Another problem for the world is that of the 'Religious Right' in North America, which is threatening to impose the rule of a Christian theocracy, to disenfranchise American citizens of their right to self-determination in matters both political and spiritual.

(The British Sovereign's right to the title 'Fidei Defensor' was bestowed on King Henry VIII in the 16th century, before the establishment of the Church of England, which later no longer accepted the authority of the Pope as Head of the Church in England). In his recent declaration, the then Prince of Wales, now King Charles III, expressed his desire, when King, to amend his inherited title to the words: 'Defender of Faiths' (plural).

Ms Liz said...

Not a summery summer Bishop Peter but there's yet 2 summer months and I hope you'll get plenty of swims. I hope family who are unwell will find comfort and healing. Thank you for your thoughtful essays and for hosting the discussions that follow, it's all so interesting, and really pushes my learning! Take care.

Moya said...

Readers of recent ADU blogs might be interested in an extract from a book, ‘Christianity and Liberalism’ by a Presbyterian minister in the blog TheOtherCheek. I found it helpful. Blessings everyone for 2023 and thanks Bishop Peter

Anonymous said...

"mean and nasty"

Since we see even more of this in political threads, one suspects that religion per se is not the root cause. And since we see more of it than we used to, even in the offline world, something out here has changed. Robert Putnam says that we collectively are seeing more behaviour that is eroding our trust in others, causing some of us to be mass shooters, trolls, cheats, or otherwise impolite.

If we can agree that the negative emotion of the messages that + Peter mentions is Contempt, then old-fashioned CAD theory would predict that the values being invoked are Communal. In his examples above, that is indeed the case.

The mean and nasty think that they are vigilantes enforcing communal norms that are being more or less dangerously eroded. We see more of their Contempt online because they are expending more effort in enforcement. So, for example, mean and nasty Catholics are enforcing bits of Catholicism that they think that the pope is threatening or at least not defending as he should.

There are five small rewards to being mean and nasty.

(1) One is putting one's hate-speech on other people's screens. Trolls do online what would be dangerous to their persons in the real world. Some tricksters delight in the schadenfreude of those helpless to stop them.

(2) Another is feeling manly when one cannot think of a better way of doing that. How many female trolls have you ever seen?

(3) Still another is the feeling of belonging to a tribe that defines itself by opposition to other tribes. The reframing of old identities as oppositions (eg Anglican --> Gafconian) has made pugnacity a membership card.

(4) Narcissists who go online simply to be seen make themselves more conspicuous and attract replies (if only from the weak) when shoot at bystanders on the way through. Trolls are not self-effacing.

(5) And finally, the mean and nasty could believe that their comments are effective in enforcing norms or compelling respect.

Importantly, the satisfactions of successful persuasion are not on the list. And when meanness and nastiness is edited out of tweets or comments (as + Peter has occasionally done here), what remains scarcely ever has the parts of a serious attempt to persuade a human reader from shared premises.

This is why deleting the mean and nasty sentiments on all of our screens is the digital analog of scrubbing offensive graffiti off of public buildings, or towing stalled vehicles out of lanes of traffic, or escorting away men who pee in public water fountains. A degraded community good should be restored.

The fact that words may be involved in the degradation does not make it worthy of protection. Now that AI algorithms are good enough to write mediocre content, their use to delete less than mediocre comments on it cannot be far off.

+ Peter's examples above all concern religion. Does this in any way condition our thoughts about them? Perhaps in two ways.

The obvious one is that the motivations of universal religions are necessarily positive loves. When a religion about “l’amor che move ’l sole e l’altre stelle” ** is treated as a merely tribal opposition to other humans, it is being mistreated. Haters are not *in Christ*, but-- who knows?-- their animal sacrifices may possibly satisfy Santeria.

The subtler one is that, insofar as religions are bedrock accounts of reality, they are fenced with some tests of authenticity or authority. It can be tricky to discuss these because some will see the tests as chartered by Communities, others as established by Argument and still others as revealed by the Divine. It is possible to feel such Contempt, or Anger, or even Disgust at those who source the tests differently that we fail to see that they too stand with us on the same bedrock under the same heaven.

** "The Love that moves the Sun and the other stars." Dante Alighieri, Paradiso, XXXIII 145.


Ms Liz said...

"Another problem for the world is that of the 'Religious Right' in North America, which is threatening to impose the rule of a Christian theocracy, to disenfranchise American citizens of their right to self-determination in matters both political and spiritual." ~Father Ron

I totally 100% share this concern. And the folk who are pushing their dominionist agenda are also doing so internationally, and with fervour.

"In this third installment of the Reporter’s Guide to the New Apostolic Reformation, we’ve highlighted that the NAR vision is always international and not merely a matter of parochial American nationalism." ~via Religion Despatches


Mark Murphy said...

In Whakaraupō/Lyttelton Harbour, we are presently unable to swim at certain beaches because of the high levels of faecal matter currently in the water....

...thus constraining the enjoyment of an important and traditional religious rite (whether you understand this in a Christian framework or otherwise).

A few years ago I was driving in our inland mountains when I came across a sign that said "[So and so] Scientific Reserve". Immediately I thought: these great tracts of protected public land, relatively empty of human presence, are also our great *Spiritual Reserves*. Does it matter that this not thought of, acknowledged?

This year, I'm come to see Christmas in Aotearoa as a great spiritual season not so much in terms of the remembrance of the birth of Christ (which matters to me), and even less in terms of family gathering and present giving, but more in terms of a time when the usual busyness stops. When the tide of one world goes out - and we can perhaps glimpse or at least feel the tide of another world coming in, regardless of whether we acknowledge it or not.

Much like Covid lockdowns.

God gets to us in the gaps.

Anonymous said...

"I found it helpful."

In the fall of 1980, I gobbled all of the works of J Gresham Machen, including Christianity and Liberalism. Were they helpful?

Yes, in that he was a competent and stylish builder of sentences, paragraphs, arguments. At that tender age, models of mental order were invigorating to me no matter what they were actually about. Also, Machen wrote a pathbreaking introduction to New Testament Greek that some still use today.

Ultimately, no, in that both sides of the 1930s Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy that had distracted him from his lectures and drills had already been superseded on their own terms by theologies that were better resourced and far more ecumenical. Dogmatically, what integrates all understanding that has been in Christ must be more true than what is merely sectarian.

The once-embattled institutions had survived, but I saw that those thriving in them were responding to the ongoing life of the whole Body. And those not thriving seemed to be fighting the old war in their heads over and over and over as though God could not reveal himself out of the trenches of a distant battlefield. "Zombie, zombie, zombie."

Gardening down south, my shovel once clanked into an unexploded land mine. The Confederacy had fallen, the Yankees were long gone, but the land was still seeded with explosive ordinance. As a precaution, a fire truck took it away.


Anonymous said...

Hi Liz

Nothing is easier than misunderstanding some other group's religion.

When I find a journalist who understands the Dutch Reformed background to the groups on the Right that you mention, I'll link to her here. Until then, if we really care about this-- why?-- we do our own work.

Links to a few key figures and many keywords--

William Temple, Christianity and Social Order

Seeds, not system.


Moya said...

Thanks Bowman. What I found helpful was a clear presentation of the historical roots of the faith, rather than what Machen was fighting against. I get fuzzy round the edges with lots to think about!

Anonymous said...


Moya, the reports about Benedict XVI have me thinking of an article he wrote that I have not yet relocated.

Jean Leclerq's The Love of Learning And The Desire for God famously contrasts the clear, logical theology of the medieval universities with the fuzzy, experiential theology of their monastic contemporaries. The mainstream today has only the former, a monocular vision of divine things that is good as far as it goes, but lacks depth perception.

Benedict admired Leclerq's book, and generalised its thesis to the theology of all times. But in addition to the clear and the fuzzy, Benedict also wrote of biblical exegesis as a third way of theology that is neither clear nor fuzzy but-- what shall we call it?-- conversational.


Anonymous said...

Liz, you probably want to be aware of the existence of this book--

Ben Witherington III (2016) The Problem with Evangelical Theology: Testing the Exegetical Foundations of Calvinism, Dispensationalism, Wesleyanism, and Pentecostalism, Revised and Expanded Edition


Ms Liz said...

Phew, that sounds heavy reading BW but I'll take a look :) I'll tell you what I found and was reading last night.. an extract from 'Fundamentalism and American Culture' 3rd edition by George M. Marsden. After reading the free portion I bought the kindle.

It's really informative about some of my childhood memories, one example being pre-millenialism. And Dad had a hardcover copy of 'Dispensational Truth' by Clarence Larkin.. I always loved the charts. After Dad died I asked for the book, so I have it. I was amazed to see some of the charts are in Marsden's book. Marsden discusses many things that I'm familiar with, but I never knew where those ideas had come from. It's pretty exciting to learn about events, and discussions that were being had, in the late C19 and early C20 that ended up forming the church context I grew up in and what my Dad was teaching! Even small things are interesting e.g. Marsden mentioned Billy Sunday in passing and I remembered a book Dad had at home with Billy Sunday on the cover.

Moya said...

Benedict XVI’s article sounds hopeful to me BW… I have had fuzzy monastic reading and some experience but when I am in ‘the river deep enough to swim in’, I like to keep one foot on the bottom! Though, truth to tell, I am only in it up to my ankles… If you find that conversational third way of theology, I would like to know it.

Anonymous said...

Gresham Machen cannot be easily dismissed as a good stylist who wrote a sturdy grammar of New Testament Greek. He was a first class Princeton professor who wrote not only an accessible but penetrating critique of the liberalism that prevailed in 19th and early 20th century Germany (Machen studied under Barth's teacher Herrmann) and the Anglophone Protestant world, but also solid historical works on "The Origin of Paul's Religion" and "The Virgin Birth of Christ". These works laid in part the foundation for the revival of American evangelical scholarship in the 1950s through Ned Stonehouse and others.
Machen was only 55 when he died in 1937. I do not know whether he engaged much with Bultmann's ideas which were beginning to be known in the Anglophone world, but I can readily imagine how he would have dealt with them: with the analytical skills that C. S. Lewis demonstrated toward Bultmann in "Fernseeds and Elephants", along with Machen's massive technical knowledge as a Neutestamentler and historian of the first century. Bultmann's form criticism has simply failed the test of time and scholarly dissection, both in the Synoptic tradition and John, and I am surprised that anyone would want to invoke his name today.
Further, Bultmann, although a critic of the older liberal Protestantism, was himself very much beholden to their assumptions, as Tony Thiselton showed in his great book on hermeneutics (Thiselton shows Bultmann's debt to
anti-miraculous modernist liberalism as well as Kantianism and Heidegger in a 70 page chapter).
In point after point Bultmann is simply wrong about Jesus and the interest of the primitive church in his life, his teaching and his personality. One might prefer the way N. T. Wright has demolished Bultmannian scepticism in our day but that work was already anticipated by Machen (and even C. S. Lewis).

Pax et bonum,
William Greenhalgh

Anonymous said...

Happy New Year, Liz!

Glad to hear that you've found George Marsden :-) You may possibly want to browse David Bebbington, Mark Noll and Molly Worthen as well. From here up yonder it is doubly difficult to know how much of this will have traction on what you experienced among Plymouth Brethren in distant and often distinctive Down Under.

I hope that you are taking notes?

You seem to have intuited that knowing someone else's religion has no fewer than four corners-- phenomenology (how does it map the horizon of their experience?), history (how does it influence them as patients and agents in happenings through time?), hermeneutics (how does it correlate their horizon to that of sacred texts and traditions?), and theology (with what language does it situate them in the most prior reality?). At least, you mention all four of them from time to time, which is rare here at ADU (which is harmless) and in most news media (which is harmful and maybe dangerous).

Family history is such an obvious starting point for investigating one's own religion that, even realizing that some react against their influences, I am amazed that so many skip this. The cost of doing so is that religion's connections to other aspects of life are never fully explored. These tend to be carried along with one like Laban's household idols in Genesis xxxi as when say the American grandson of a Catholic from County Galway who enters the Society of Jesus, marries a nun, is received into TEC as a parish priest, becomes rector of the largest parish in the diocese, and is later elected its bishop. Mere opinions adapt to changing circumstances, but deeper templates can be surprisingly resilient.

There are consequential ambivalences. A nondenominational men's bible study group I know has long had a certain polarity on public policy-- some are supportive of Federal health insurance and enthused about state prison reform while others are hostile to the former and cool to the latter. All are evangelicals and none are denominational group-truthers, but the same independence that helps the former to organize freely for humanitarian works of mercy, ratifies in the latter a libertarian hostility to too much community of any kind. A common belief can mean very divergent things to different people.


Mark Murphy said...

Why the Anglican way - to have our disagreements out in the open rather than behind closed doors, or suffocated from on high - is immensely preferable....

Ms Liz said...

Happy New Year, Bowman! Thanks for your encouraging message and the reminder about notes, I haven't started yet but I'm prepared with notebook and journal.
I read that same article earlier today Mark and found it very interesting.. what goes on 'behind the scenes'!!
If anyone's at a loose end, I've been doing a photo blog called 'Exploring Colour' since 2017 at [I post regularly, often daily] You're very welcome to visit!
Best wishes for 2023 :)

Mark Murphy said...

Hi Liz,

What a rich blog!

Loved the lazy alive stillness vibe 'on the corner of Atheneum and Cockleshell'.

Love that photo of the triangle of long wildflowers, the crooked sign, and summer hanging languidly above and all around. Ah.

"Take time to celebrate the quiet miracles that seek no attention" (John O'Donohue).

Ms Liz said...

I love it that you visited, Mark! Thanks so much and I'm glad you enjoyed the photos. Beautiful quote at the end of your message. Very apt!

Anonymous said...

“Benedict XVI’s article sounds hopeful to me BW… I have had fuzzy monastic reading and some experience but when I am in ‘the river deep enough to swim in’, I like to keep one foot on the bottom! Though, truth to tell, I am only in it up to my ankles… If you find that conversational third way of theology, I would like to know it.”

Hi Moya

Other projects are tugging me away from ADU. Much as I like them, I am wary of projecting too much into my recollection of Benedict's three types.

But a partial answer to your question is simple to give and interesting to try: read Benedict's multi-volume life of Christ (or maybe his model, Romano Guardini's The Lord) alongside Richard Bauckham's Jesus and the Eyewitnesses and then pray to be given more of Jesus's mind.

Why is that a bottom for your foot? Jesus is the face of YHWH. If (and only if) one has his character fully in mind, then one can begin to be *in Christ*. That is the only bottom our toes can stretch toward.

When Julian of Norwich was swimming in your river, she asked God for the blessing of experiencing Jesus's crucifixion within herself. Between her lines we see that she had read ample theology, scholastic and otherwise, as well as the scriptures, some of them in Hebrew. But to be more in Christ, she wanted participation in Jesus's dying to remake her heart so that she could know all his creatures as he did. In her thirtieth year, she recorded sixteen visions of this blessed trauma; in the years following, she added to them the famous words of her meditations--

"All things shall be well and all things shall be well and all manner of things shall be well."

“Our Savior is our true Mother in whom we are endlessly born and out of whom we shall never come.”

“And in this he showed me a little thing, the quantity of a hazel nut, lying in the palm of my hand, as it seemed. And it was as round as any ball. I looked upon it with the eye of my understanding, and thought, ‘What may this be?’ And it was answered generally thus, ‘It is all that is made.’ I marveled how it might last, for I thought it might suddenly have fallen to nothing for littleness. And I was answered in my understanding: It lasts and ever shall, for God loves it. And so have all things their beginning by the love of God. In this little thing I saw three properties. The first is that God made it. The second that God loves it. And the third, that God keeps it.”

Thinking back to Donald Fairbairn's article (JETS 50/2, 289–310), you can see that although she was far in space, time, and culture from the fathers, she was recognizably on what he calls the *personal trajectory* from Irenaeus through SS Athanasius and Cyril of Alexandria. Some reading of her contemporary Walter Hilton would show that she had companions on that path in England and lands nearby. It is a colloquy of the soul with God.


Father Ron said...

A timely word from a friend on the Feast of The Epiphany - about our common fragility:


"God’s grace in us always works on our nature. Thinking of a Gospel parable, we can always compare grace to the good seed and nature to the soil (cf. Mk 4:3-9). First of all, it is important to make ourselves known, without fear of sharing the most fragile aspects, where we find ourselves to be more sensitive, weak, or afraid of being judged. Making oneself known, manifesting oneself to a person who accompanies us on the journey of life. Not who decides for us, no: but who accompanies us.

Because fragility is, in reality, our true richness: we are rich in fragility, all of us, the true richness which we must learn to respect and welcome, because when it is offered to God, it makes us capable of tenderness, mercy, and love. Woe to those people who do not feel fragile: they are harsh, dictatorial. Instead, people who humbly recognize their own frailties are more understanding with others. Fragility, I dare say, makes us human.

Not by chance, the first of Jesus’ three temptations in the desert – the one linked to hunger – tries to rob us of fragility, presenting it as an evil to be rid of, an impediment to being like God. And yet it is our most valuable treasure: indeed God, to make us like him, wished to share our own fragility to the utmost. Look at the crucifix: God who descended into fragility. Look at the Nativity scene, where he arrives in great human fragility. He shared our fragility."

Pope Francis

Kalo Epiphania!

Ms Liz said...

Love what you shared Father Ron!

Popped in to share something, from reading in the Amplified Bible, Romans 6:3-4 (online, at Bible Gateway) :

3 Or are you ignorant of the fact that all of us who have been [a]baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? 4 We have therefore been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory and power of the Father, we too might walk habitually in newness of life [abandoning our old ways].

[a] Romans 6:3 “Baptize” is a transliteration of the Greek word baptizo, which means to submerge an object into liquid. In this passage Christ becomes the liquid, metaphorically, and those who are baptized into Him remain in Him forever and benefit from His experiences, including His death. The best news is that Jesus was resurrected,...

What grabbed my attention was "In this passage Christ becomes the liquid,.."

~a slightly different perspective to how I've perceived the meaning of those words in verse 3 hitherto. So, just sayin', in case someone has some thoughts on that. I'm still pondering...

Moya said...

Thanks BW for those links which I will explore. I have a copy of “Revelations of Divine Love” and have read it slowly more than once. I think my soul has been learning to have a colloquy with God but I sometimes lose confidence in what I am doing, and you point the way back to Jesus. And I am taken with being immersed in ‘the liquid which is Christ’ even in my fragility.

Anonymous said...

"confidence in what I am doing"

Moya, St Paul-- of Tarsus, after all-- seems to me to have thought that the Way of Jesus subsumes these Hellenistic ways and points past them--,_Mersin

Christian theology and Hellenistic philosophy cannot wholly agree in this aeon, but they have been mutually illuminating for two millennia. Not a few serious Christians have seen exercises like those in say Marcus Aurelius's Meditations as the inner discipline proper to outer discipleship in the world.

The dissonance hereabouts between a lonely existentialist experientialism and the code of an impersonal world-system is inadequate to practical discipleship. Each excludes something indispensible to life in God, and the pursuit of both is a crazymaking zigzag. These clashing notes voice the (post)modern West's schizophrenia rather than the Son who bore the mission of Israel to the world and called YHWH "Father" on its behalf.

As we might have expected, many C20 scholars likewise tugged the philosophies that St Paul encountered (eg Stoics) into much the same opposition. But in the second phase of his philosophical career, Ludwig Wittgenstein explored religious speech as a *language game*-- an inter-personal practice in the medium of a community with shared habits, realities, and perceptions.

Conceived as an interpersonal practice, faith is at once less solipsistic and less soulless. Philosophers-- notably, Pierre Hadot in France, Alasdair MacIntyre in the UK, and Martha Nussbaum up here-- used this insight to retrieve ancient philosophy as a personal discipline that induced self-awareness, sought wisdom, and relieved suffering.

But Wittgenstein himself had been exploring the way in which Christian beliefs make sense for those who hold them. On this side of the pond, his new way of thinking about language generally and religious language particularly stimulated reflection on-- what the scriptures are (stories, canon, tradition, rhetoric), how churches embody Jesus's ethos (virtues, gifts, callings, canons), how conversation cures souls (penance, spiritual direction, discernment, blessing) etc.

This was not a new theology. But it was a philosophy less debilitating to life in Christ than the old modern philosophies (eg Kant, Reid, etc) had been. Nor were theologians (eg George Lindbeck, Robert Jenson) slow to see that such a communal vision of language and truth cleared a path to a new ecclesial and sacramental realism.

What you are doing we are all doing together.


Father Ron said...

Good News for TODAY, from our friend in Rome: -


"By having himself baptized, Jesus reveals God’s justice, that justice He came to bring into the world. Very often we have a limited idea of justice, and think that it means: those who do wrong pay, and in this way compensate for the wrong they have done. But God’s justice, as the Scripture teaches, is much greater: it does not have as its end the condemnation of the guilty, but their salvation and rebirth, making them righteous: from unjust to just. It is a justice that comes from love, from the depths of compassion and mercy that are the very heart of God, the Father who is moved when we are oppressed by evil and fall under the weight of sins and fragility.

God’s justice, then, is not intended to distribute penalties and punishments but rather, as the Apostle Paul affirms, it consists of making us, his children, righteous (cf. Rm 3:22-31), freeing us from the snares of evil, healing us, raising us up again. The Lord is always there, not ready to punish us, but with his hand outstretched to help us rise up. "

Pope Francis

Kalo Epiphania!

Father Ron said...

Have just tapped in, Bishop Peter, to your link to Psephizo's blog, and a wonderful conversation about the fourth Gospel's account of Jesus Baptism. Well worth time to read: -

MsLiz said...

I've been working on my NEW mostly-Christian content blog (using the 'Blogger' platform since ADU and some others of you use Blogger). Bit of a learning curve!

Reconciling All Things


Peter Carrell said...

Nice blog, Liz!

MsLiz said...

Many thanks, Bishop Carrell!

Mark Murphy said...

Inspiring. A proud day to be Anglican. Worth considering if the model/precedent is applicable in Aotearoa....

Mark Murphy said...

Recommending this letter to ADU readers ...

Nothing particularly new in the scriptural discussion, but a good summary of the affirming viewpoint on That Topic.

Moreover, a thoughtful and honest explanation of how a careful, orthodox bishop, concerned for church unity, has evolved from a place of silence and tacit support for the status quo, to a metanoia/change of mind/transforming integration.

Any stones thrown into the pond of England to have big ripple effects for the world-wide Communion?....

....including Aotearoa, where we have not really sunk our episcopal teeth into the question of same-sex *marriage* yet? We've tried to forestall it, somewhat, by taking an innovative *via media* on same-sex blessings. Peter, can I look forward to the *Aotearoa via media* being extended to marriage in 2023 and beyond?

Happy New Year fellow internet theo-hares!

Anonymous said...

Blessing a match is already a long step beyond just solemnizing it. Will MWM someday catch up to SSB? Should it?

Or will some small voice in the crowd ask: what magic is God actually doing in these blessings? And how exactly do we know?

The couples leaving city halls and parks and museums hand in hand look just as married as the ones leaving churches. And they have papers to prove it.

In other news, some erudite readers of Romans i 26-27 have thought that those verses allude to sex with fallen angels (aka watchers), the issue of which turned pagans away from God. Why? Because ancient rabbinical and patristic tradition linked the two Genesis accounts of women (Genesis vi) and men (Sodom and Gomorrah) with angels to explain the wickedness of the nations.

Read that way, the text raises interesting and deep questions about the epistle as a whole, but says nothing at all about That Topic. If lesbianism is not mentioned there, it is probably not in the Bible anywhere. Indeed, some argue that without Romans i, That Topic is no topic at all.

Enoch-aware scholars have noticed this since about the turn of the millennium. Not so recently, a revisionist book on the Bible and sex for general readers devoted a chapter to this. but I've never seen this discussed in the Anglican blogosphere. Has anyone else?

And if not, why not?


Mark Murphy said...

“Blessing a match is already a long step beyond just solemnizing it.” (BW, previous post).

Hi Bowman, not sure how they do things in North America, but blessing drips from every page of the Anglican Church of Aotearoa’s marriage liturgies (as found in a New Zealand Prayer Book), culminating in the formal Marriage Blessing itself:

“All praise and blessing to you, God of love,
creator of the universe, maker of man and woman in your likeness,
source of blessing for married life.
All praise to you for you have created courtship and marriage,
joy and gladness, feasting and laughter, pleasure and delight.
May your blessing come in full upon *Name* and *Name*.
May they know your presence in their joys and in their sorrows.
May they reach old age in the company of friends
and come at last to your eternal kingdom.”

It’ all solemnizing and blessing intermixed together. The traditional (Book of Common Prayer?) language of ‘solemnization’, as our vicar explained to us, indicates that a Christian marriage isn’t just one great party, or a functional administrative entry, but gestures to the seriousness of the commitment being undertaken in the explicit presence of the Creator God and one’s church family. As the above blessing beautifully expresses, it also places marriage as an important threshold, way station, or sacrament on the pilgrimage of one’s life, from baptism to death.

Christian marriage is different to state marriage, for these reasons and more.

To include marriage as part of the sacraments was a generous move by the Church (in both East and West) after it became abundantly clear that Christ was not literally returning in the 200 years or so following his death, and the Church was being moved by the Spirit to care for people across the lifespan.

“In taking marriage into its sacramental structure, the Church breaks down the barrier between the sacred and the secular, declares it concern with our worldly, embodied existence, and provides for the impact of divine grace upon our everyday activities.” (John Macquarrie).

In this regard, following Macquarrie’s words, a Christian marriage represents our resistance to the secularization of our outer and inner life.

Offering committed, faithful couples just a blessing and not a marriage continues to communicate the message IMHO that they are second class citizens in the church and the kingdom, not deserving God’s “blessing comes upon them in full”, discredits the church, and furthers the forces of secularization.

For all my putative clarity and arguments here, I also think this is tricky, puzzling territory. Peter, I’d appreciate your episcopal input in terms of what you see is the difference between a Christian marriage and a blessing in Te Hāhi Mihinare.

Anonymous said...

Again, the Grand Question, intelligently considered--


Anonymous said...

Good comment, Mark.

I especially appreciate (a) Macquarrie's tacit concession that weddings do not do what Christian sacraments do, but were, humanly speaking, good religion in his 1950s-60s milieu, and (b) your own attention to the broader horizon of the Grand Topic. These are real.

My or your desire for a team to win is beyond reasoned argument, but whether the players on the field actually move the ball and score by the rules is public reality. If we care about the game, we care about the reality.

Similarly, we can and should want our states to succeed in securing justice for sexual minorities. But churches do what they do properly by another logic that has its own verification.

Or-- churches have much of the world's great art and music, but a dictatorship of painters and musicians in the Body would betray the central Reality that brought them together in the first place. If churches are not good churches of God, then what they once did about colour and sound will not matter to anyone. If you want more beautiful icons and inspiring anthems, people must first learn to pray.

So it is possible to support civil SSM, as I have done since the 1970s, and for that very reason treat sexual minorities in the Body as first class citizens by insisting that what we do, both generally and with respect to them, be faith in YHWH worthy of their and our "reasonable worship."

I-- I think humanity itself-- will never give weight to bald arguments for justice in church in the way that we do give that weight to arguments for justice in the state. Yes, of course YHWH and we care about justice, but insofar as churches are autonomous of the state, their own mission and logic must be respected. If not, neither minorities nor majorities will bother with them.

Anonymous said...

"tricky puzzling territory"

Yes. Since Macquarrie's day, secularity-- godlessness, if you will-- has absorbed Religion as a cultural category. In the old West of modernity, we could do religious things and they would be understood as godly things just because YHWH's was the only public religion. So in his day, doing weddings was doing religion and doing that was obviously doing Christianity. No more.

Mark Murphy said...

Michael Sean Winters, writing in the National Catholic Reporter, on George Pell and his warrior approach to secular modernity:

"There are times when the church needs lions, protectors, prelates and others willing to man the barricades, at least in times of persecution. But the late 20th and early 21st century witnessed something different from persecution.

True, the acids of modernity, as political commentator Walter Lippmann once called them, were eating away not only at the faith but at the disposition to believe. The culture was becoming secular, but not the way late 18th-century French culture had become secular. People were not so much hostile as busy. They lost interest in the faith, failed to see that it related to their daily lives, and moved on.

Lions like Pell treated these developments as modern-day reign of terror and thought they could hasten the Thermidorian reaction, but they misdiagnosed the situation. Modernity was not producing anti-clericals in the mold of Robespierre but rather people who were alienated, drowning in materialism and plenty, needy.

The times called for pastors, not prophets, for accompaniment not thunderbolts, for missionaries and evangelizers not apologists, for lambs not lions."

Mark Murphy said...

Thanks Bowman. I always appreciate your thinking here, mostly because it is so different to mine and spurs me to reflect and consider, to breathe and stretch.

I think....I think!....our differences here comes down to:

1. Different views of what a sacrament is.

You seem to espouse a more reformed, 39 Articles approach in which baptism and eucharist are the only proper Christian sacraments...because these were instituted by Jesus himself?...and in them we can clearly see how these actions are related to salvation, to justification by faith and sanctification?....which is considered the core business - and maybe the only proper business - of Christianity?

At least thinking this way I make sense of your comment: "...weddings do not do what Christian sacraments do."

To be honest, my approach is catholic and experiential first off - it's what I've always been taught, experienced (in Roman and Anglo-Catholic settings), and find myself drawn back to as a post-critical adult: to experience God's mysterious presence woven into our deeper moments of living, offering us special grace and companionship as we face into the magnitude and anxiety of being and our committed lives together. Simplistic perhaps, but incarnation would be the central theological frame for this approach to Christian life.

Incarnation, including the Spirit's love affair with matter, with Earth...Emmanuel, God among us...Jesus at the wedding feast/as the wedding feast, Jesus as face of the Creator God, as the pre-cosmic creative Light of Being and gateway, as Risen Christ, into the New Creation...and the Church's honouring of this in it's embrace of colour, seasons, architecture, liturgy, holy springs, beaches and rivers, and in it's hallowing and deepening of birth, adulthood, marriage, ordination, sickness, death.

I take your point....I think!...that Christian marriage can be rather gobbled up by secular modernity - a colourful cultural event, with beautiful music and stained glass, one simply must have.

But for me, the wider sacramental embrace attracts me to what secularism can never provide: being cheek and jowl with the spiritual world in which Christ has opened our graves. I think...I think!....that was part of Charles Gore's wrestling with modernism: an embrace but also a critique, a sense of it's contribution and also it's clear limitation.

The reformed protestant sensibility is just too thin for me. It ends up feeling like a hard, baked, crust of sand - dry, brittle, waiting to crumble.

Either way, we are living in an experimental 'third branch' in which both reformed and catholic views are included, where the Church cannot win if one is victor and the other loser. At times my hot headedness makes me wish and push for the Church to be more declarative, but I do actually appreciate the third-way wisdom of +Peter and others on SSB, and that's what I'd want for same sex marriage.

Our second difference....?...

2. Accurately or not, I observe that you mostly consider same sex blessings as a human justice issue, rather than something which flows naturally out of one's faith and spirituality.

Anonymous said...

Macquarrie et al saw the Incarnation as the bridge from mere religion to mere Christianity. The thought was: when the Son took on human nature, he also took on hu?an institutions. In that view, anything human can be religious and so inevitably-- because they were still moderns then-- churchly.

(Mark, if you like this line of reasoning, then by all means treat yourself to Alexander Schmemann's short lyrical classic, For The Life Of The World.)

Notice though a certain slippage. Those for and against the C16 reforms correlated acts of the Body, along with the Body itself, to the transformative age to come. An argument like Macquarrie's also correlates churchly acts to Christian society in the present saeculum.

But how do we cross his incarnational bridge in a society of this aeon that is not by any stretch of the imagination a *corpus christianum*? The idea of church as a sort of chaplaincy to society at large no longer makes the old sense.

Mark Murphy said...

Great questions and provocations, Bowman. I will think! I like how we always keep coming back to the ground and horizon of secularized now.

Mark Murphy said...

Is is possible to imagine human life without social and cultural "institutions"? To have spirituality without religion?

Secular modernity has tried to prune back all traces of spirituality and divinity from our (minimal) corporate life, too, but does that mean secular moderns are no longer religious?

In the microcosm of the human psyche we find an abundance of religious symbols and narratives - as Carl Jung discovered - regardless of whether someone is baptized, attends a church, believes in God etc.

As Jung famously said, the gods are today found in our symptoms - because human life cannot be whole without this dimension, and because no neurosis is fully transformed until one makes contact with that deeper, spiritual reservoir of meaning, energy, and guidance.

The Christian question, for me, is: what is the relationship of Christ, of the Gospel, to this spiritual-cum-psychological inner world that hums inside us all, in sickness and in health?


I don't hear Macquarrie talking about a *Christian society* in dialogue with Church and sacramental life.

I hear Macquarrie imagine society as thoroughly secularized and using existential philosophy as one part of the dialogue bridge. If existentialism highlights the anxiety, alienation, and freedom of being, Christianity offers a way of understanding the depth of anxiety, estrangement, and responsibility, as well as offering a sense of intimate solidarity with something bigger than oneself.

Depth psychology is another potent bridge, though by itself, like existentialism, risks becoming closed to its dynamic, transcendent ground.

One of the bigger problems that the Church contends with, perhaps, is not that postmoderns are irreligious, but that it is alien for them to seek religion (as well as exercise, fellowship etc) through committed, communal ways of being.
Still, both the Church and postmoderns have largely forgotten they are religious, or forgotten where to find that, find the gateway in. Sacraments point us in the right direction, as well as safeguarding the journey to some extent (for the spiritual journey isn't all light and love, as moderns and postmoderns often imagine).

Peter Carrell said...

Thank you for a wonderful series of profound comments!

Am a bit distracted at present since house renovations are underway.

Next post coming on Monday.


Anonymous said...

"Different views of what a sacrament is"

No, different uses for the same word. To be clear, I rarely find the concept helpful for the problems I think about. When no other word will haul the freight, I use it in the scholastic sense that it has had for the past millennium.

Why? Because in my world using it in some idiolectic sense would just confuse and annoy people who have used the word with reference to its long history all their long lives. For me, it is better to use language closer, not to an abstraction like *sacrament*, but to the thing of interest.

To me, it sounds as though you are using *sacrament* in a novel phenomenological sense for experiences of the numinous through objects-- "infinity in a grain of sand and eternity in a flower." As scholasticism and phenomenology are broadly incompatible, so perhaps are the two usages.

Do we disagree about realities beyond the mere word? Maybe, but it has seemed more likely that you use sacred language with less confidence that it is conditioned by stable referents, and more confidence that one can always choose another perspective without loss of the vista.

"a more reformed 39 Articles approach"

Not really. With respect to weddings, monastic tonsures, military commissions, conferrals of degrees, coronations of monarchs, etc it was solid progress to discover that they are inductions into states of life, not sacraments. Anglicans are blessed that the 39A got that right, but theologians of not at all reformed traditions have tacitly or explicitly recognised the distinction drawn.

"human justice issue rather than... faith and spirituality"

Why must we choose? The millennium is young, and it is much too early to say that consensus has been reached or has gotten the matter irreformably right.

As I said, postmodernity is in part the absorption of religion into godless secularity. With respect to God-language this poses an obvious problem that I never minimise.

But with respect to marriage, while we discuss it as a narrowly cultic matter, postmoderns recognise the human institution that has always been. For bible people, human marriage would seem to be more spiritual (even more scriptural and traditional) than merely churchly marriage. Weddings in parks or museums or stately homes gain more in their inclusivity than they lose in medieval ceremonial. Is the King less married for having wed in a registry office?

It's "a brave new world that has such people in it," but "we cannot dip our toes in the same river twice."


Anonymous said...

"The Christian question for me is..."

Yes, Mark. That among other things.

I hope that you will find time this year for the questions I posted for you last week. No rush, but it will move some things along when you do.


Anonymous said...


To be honest, Mark, I never expect others online to agree with me because I do not see how arguments here or anywhere can replicate the decades of learning, travel, calamities, friendships, prayer, etc that inform any of my (or their) opinions. The most that we can do, as Father Ron likes to say, is to tell the other beggars where we found bread.

So I am not surprised that you have pigeon-holed me with low church, rather humdrum enforcers of the 39A. That could strike readers of the whole of my comments here as rather far off-- it strikes me that way-- but you and I talk about the Articles more often than other things that loom much larger in my horizon. And it may be that they actually are more prominent in the mental landscape of Anglicanism as practiced Down Under than they have ever been here up yonder.


I began to study theology in a far more ecumenical milieu than actually exists anywhere in the world today. In those days, the late Joseph Ratzinger hinted that John Paul II might sign the Augsburg Confession. So nothing Lutheran, Catholic or Orthodox is alien to me, and occasionally I post something on mariology here.

Protestantism here up yonder is more diverse than it appears to be Down Under, so the referents of Reformation language that I hear are at least as likely to be oh Finnish Lutheran, Czech Moravian, Dutch Reformed, German Anabaptist, etc as latter day Anglican. And those Continental variants have resources that Anglo-Catholics have mistakenly seen only in Rome, in part because they do not understand the Rhineland and Luther. So Episcopalians have never needed to defeat Protestantism or the Articles to be Anglo-Catholics. Foaming at the mouth fist-punching rage at them just looks pathological here. One can just gravitate to the higher churchmanship within the sprawling house of international Protestantism all of which is in North America.

The most Reformed of the old TEC seminaries is also the one with a monastic regimen, incense, ad orientem celebration, etc. Anglo-Catholicism is Protestantism.

Episcopalians are Anglicans but not English nationalists. Anglicanism here is not shaking a fist at the pope and the Spanish armada as it can seem to be in much of the Commonwealth.

Evangelicals in the academy are vastly more interesting and sophisticated than the ones you seem to be meeting Down Under. And even the old Fundamentalists were not as stupid as unfair secular legend has made them seem. Polarising oneself against all evangelicalism is very unwise-- Benedict XVI clearly didn't-- although one can be a sound Protestant without caring much about or altogether believing the central premise that the Word moves independently of the Body.

Apart from all that, the English reform was more patristic than scholastic, which was and is an organic opening to the never-scholastic East. I have taken noticeably full advantage of this.

Finally, I have paid attention to the research on Judaic origins, Second Temple Judaism, and Late Antiquity. A different history can sometimes make a large difference.


Mark Murphy said...

Yes, it's true - I almost always privilege personal experience when discussing things. That's both a temperamental and a professional (I'm trained as a gestalt therapist - a psychotherapy based on phenomenology) thing. But I do (try) to acknowledge the limitations of this. I mean, by itself, without other ways of knowing to balance it out, personal experience can become easily overwhelmed, inflated, deflated, solipsistic. And in terms of God, the spirit world, and theology, that can be personally and socially very dangerous.

Personal experience needs many things to balance it, to test it out. I appreciate ADU and you Bowman as a community where I can test out some of the spirits that I am encountering, so to speak. Please don't think I believe everything I say here!

But without personal experience or knowing, there is no encounter with God and one's soul. And without recognizing it's influence in our consciousness and knowledge making, we tend towards dry, authoritarian, irrelevant theologies.

So, yes, sacrament is a lived experience and not a scholastic one for me. And I guess that's says a lot about my situatedness.

I've said I find the reformed protestant sensibility too thin. Is it? Many of my warmest, joyful, spirited ancestors found it to be a deep well of living water.

But surely sacraments are by nature deeply experiential. We come to understand them through *participatory knowing*.

I don't actually know what a scholastic definition of a sacrament is, but, once again Bowman, you are spurring me to keep exploring broadly.

There is the mystery and coherence of church tradition, of church teaching, which I both struggle with and respect. For me, I temperamentally always want to find out if something is true or not *in my experience*. And while important, you can't do life, the world, and God purely like that (for reasons already mentioned).

Getting beyond me here, I do think this is also part of the postmodern condition - that 'we' don't trust the benevolence of tradition, history, received teachings nearly as easily as our ancestors (unless they are the receive teachings of certain social groups, such as Tibetan Buddhists or indigenous peoples - which we can be quite gulpy and naive with at times).

Postmoderns have an in-built *hermeneutic of suspicion*, and for good reasons. It's useful if the church doesn't take a bulldozer approach to this.

So I do think church tradition - including scripture - is full of often unacknowledged personal experience, which is so often male. And that we are right to acknowledge this and question it.

And...I also still believe and experience (daily) the life-giving, soul-grounding, spirit-opening power of our Christian tradition. In terms of sacraments, my own church tradition/whakapapa says there are seven and not two or nine. Some part of me says, why only seven? Yet I also am willing to accept there is ate good reasons for this, perhaps quite deep, spiritual, almost esoteric reasons. So while it is my experience of sacraments that through them one often starts experiencing the sacramental everywhere - in a flower, a grain of sand, to start experiencing scripture as sacrament - I am very hesitant to say there are more than seven.

Which gives me empathy for the other side of That Topic. I guess for many of us the idea of marriage being between a man and a man is as sacrilegious as me seeing the eucharist cup withheld or sloshed around like it's a fun, silly thing.

Mark Murphy said...

Hi Bowman

Yes it's true - we don't have the European diversity of Protestantism that a North American or internationally educated theologian would experience. So it probably seems to yourself that, at times, we're trying to build temples with Duplo blocks. Which perhaps we are!

But we do have a difficult, lively engagement with our indigenous peoples, and an ecclesiology, if not yet a theology, that more than reflects that. (I guess that's an Anglican way to go about things: do the ecclesiology and common prayer first, and let theology flow out of that). In that this are aspects of our cultural experience for North Americans to learn from, too, perhaps.

I have tried and am trying to understand the diversity of protestant thinking around sacraments etc., but it still seems to me that it's variations on Luther and Calvin, who I do find pretty stingy, and a long way from the Catholic and Orthodox positions.

Yeah, I don't get why the 39 Articles are given such prominence. I mean, they're just a snapshot in one, very turbulent moment in history, in which reflective, ecumenical thinking was hardly at its high point. The Book of Common Prayer has been continually rewritten, updated. I find our own short, simple catechism in A New Zealand Prayerbook much more whole and wise than the 39 Articles.

More than happy to look at the questions you raise, but which ones to you mean? The stuff on eunuchs? (Please no!).

Mark Murphy said...

I appreciate hearing more about your formative background, Bowman. Your encounter with the Orthodox tradition seems especially spiritually, personally formative and rich.

(My great Uncle, a Baptist minister from North Otago, made two pilgrimages to Athos).

There's a bit of an Anglican history on dialogue there, right? I'm aware of a little bit of it with Rowan Williams, and read Simon Barrington-Ward's book on The Jesus Prayer (his talk on YouTube about how he got involved with it is so interesting). Kallistos Ware is another bridge figure.

So what does your day to day spirituality look like? What *sadhana* are formative for you? What sort of church do you worship at?

Mark Murphy said...

I appreciate hearing more about your formative background, Bowman. Your encounter with the Orthodox tradition seems especially spiritually, personally formative and rich.

(My great Uncle, a Baptist minister from North Otago, made two pilgrimages to Athos).

There's a bit of an Anglican history on dialogue there, right? I'm aware of a little bit of it with Rowan Williams, and read Simon Barrington-Ward's book on The Jesus Prayer (his talk on YouTube about how he got involved with it is so interesting). Kallistos Ware is another bridge figure.

So what does your day to day spirituality look like? What *sadhana* are formative for you? What sort of church do you worship at?

Mark Murphy said...

Dear Bowman,

I am digesting your interesting comments on Anglo-Catholicism.

Although my parents took us back and forward to RC and Church of North India and NZ Anglican churches, in fulfilment of their ecumenical vows, and although I spent ten years of deep involvement with a most beautiful, prayerful Anglican Church in NZ (St Luke's, destroyed by earthquakes), I have only become a conscious Anglican in the last two years. Sacrament-obsessed, I once thought about getting confirmed (again) to mark this moment, this time in an Anglican as opposed to RC church, but my (Anglican) spiritual mother informed me (quite correctly, and from a Roman Catholic sacramental perspective too) that confirmation like baptism is once-and-for-all, unrepeatable, 'sealed'. You see - don't trust me on sacraments! I'm still working out how my whakapapa fits within the whakapapa of the Anglican Church....

Which is a long way of saying: that Lutheran catholic sense which you gesture towards isn't very explicit in the (somewhat minimal) Anglo-Catholic sources I've looked at so far. Maybe because those sources have been entirely English? And/or Anglo-Catholicism in NZ is *very* English, almost chokingky so at times. So I appreciate the pointer.

I am blessed by attending a church currently that, while somewhat liberal Anglo-Catholic in liturgy etc., breathes a lot of Celtic Christianity throughout it's worship. Which is very felicitous for me. And opens our spiritual geography to another, interesting, controversial, non-English, and/or pre-medieval, pre-modern English cultural source for the Ecclesia Anglicana.

= It's good to keep being reminded of the non-English sources of Anglicanism.

Anonymous said...

Mark, the questions to which I refer appeared under the OP for December 5 on December 26 and 28. They are the last comments in that thread.


Anonymous said...



The hand points at the moon; the dog barks at the hand.

Do not read a commentary before reading its text.


Ms Liz said...

"When no other word will haul the freight" .. I like that :D

Anonymous said...

"Tradition is the living faith of the dead, but orthodoxy is the dead faith of the living."

-- Jaroslav Pelikan

Maybe this analogy will clarify.

The best scholarship on sacramentology that a certain pope knew explained that ordination occurs when the ordinary hands a chalice and paten to the ordinand. So, to his mind, Anglican orders were invalid because the rites in the Ordinal were missing that active ingredient. He wrote a letter saying so.

The ABC and ABY replied. They pointed out that (a) not all popes had themselves been ordained by the definition on which he relied, and (b) the traditional active ingredient has actually been the laying on of hands that the Ordinal prescribes. Presumably in good faith, a pope mistaken about the facts reached the wrong conclusion.

Now a dog-barking-at-the-hand Catholic may wish to defend a pope just because he was a pope. That's interesting psychologically, but not theologically.

But all the hand-pointing-at-the-moon Catholics that I know follow the pope's heuristic of basing a determination on tradition. Doing so, they conclude that Anglican orders are more or less valid.

That they rely on better facts than that pope had does not seem to them like a departure from Catholicism. To the contrary, it is precisely as Catholics that they affirm the tradition, the pope as its guardian, and indeed the facts.

The "positions" Mark that mentions are like that papal letter.

Some take them in a dog-barking-at-the-hand way. That seems to be an attempt to secure a stable identity in the present with opinions formulated in the knowledge available in the past. Among others, Gafconians come to mind.

But others take them in a hand-pointing-at-the-moon way. They use them as searchlights on the best knowledge that they can find. There is continuity in so doing, but the discoveries are likely to be surprising over long stretches of time.

In our day, it happens that there are believers from all major traditions engaging in ressourcement at the well-springs of the tradition. After all, all parties in the C16 appealed to the memory of the undivided Body, but none knew it as well as we can today.

If they are not receiving their own "positions" in a dog-barking-at-the-hand way, then why would we want to do that? And if they find treasure by investigating them in a hand-pointing-at-the-moon way, why would we refuse the gift?


Mark Murphy said...

Oh, my apologies - I didn't see those extra threads there.

Yes, I'm happy to offer some responses to the next few days. Tomorrow is my first clinical day after the summer break, so it might warm me up to giving a more switched on answer.

A few questions for you, as I'm still unclear:

Do you consider marriage to be a Christian sacrament?

And if so, or not, why?

Anonymous said...

"day to day spirituality"

Good questions, involved answers, guests in town, sudden political intrigue. Next week.

"marriage... sacrament..."

It would be wise to retire the word sacrament and find better ones for what we need to say about moments of the natural life cycle in Christ.


Peter Carrell said...

Hello Mark and Bowman
A couple of notes re marriage/sacraments:

- in our NZPB understanding, marriage is a sacramental action and not a sacrament, with a degree of specialness (e.g. compared to anointing with oil) because we only approve bishops or priests (not deacons, not lay celebrants authorised by the state) to preside over a wedding.

- other actions such as confirmation, ordination are also sacramental actions rather than sacraments (despite a number of clergy loosely speaking about the seven sacraments as though they are theological facts of our Anglican life).

-"Sacrament" is only used of the dominically commanded actions, baptism and eucharist (and thus aligns with the teaching of the BCP/39A).

- there is (as per above) a discussion about (what could be called) the sacramental character of our life in God's world. The sense, that is, that many actions can and do have sacramental character, visible signs pointing to the invisible work of God in the world.

Back to house renovations!

Mark Murphy said...

Hi Bowman....the first set of your questions....

Five postmodern questions in your wheelhouse--

(1) Can following Jesus in a stipulated Way improve a disciple's mental function along the five axes of the DSM-5?

Yes, yes, and no, no.

Yes - the big meta-analyses I'm aware of suggest religion and spirituality are generally protective factors for mental health - and across the board (in terms of those 5 DSM axes of psychopathology). This was bad news for the very secular within the psychiatric/psychotherapeutic professions, who follow Freud (psychoanalysis) and Skinner (behaviourism) and Ellis (rational emotive behavioural therapy) in treating religion as generally a source of neurosis and irrational belief. But that sort of anti-religious hostility is no longer in the ascendancy.

For others, e.g. Jungians, this was no surprise.

Yes - there are innumerable examples, many within my practice, of how following Jesus brings healing into people's lives.

No - in the sense that there's no research or meta-analysis that I'm aware of that states Christian religion is anymore therapeutically beneficial than, say, Islamic or Buddhist practice.

So these big meta-analysis, which is the only way of really answering the big scale questions you're asking here, aren't fine grained enough to catch theological differences and details, instead focussing on supportive group membership and a sense of purpose and hope as why religion and spirituality is benefial.

No - in my clinical and personal experience, being Christian doesn't prevent one from experiencing mental illness, though it *may*....and in that may are the more interesting questions.... enable someone to navigate their way through, although that can't be taken for granted.

(2) If so, could this also be detected in RDoC?

Yes, and this could be interesting to look at, though the knowledge generated through such research would be pretty broad brush.

(3) Apart from that personal health, does following the Way enable qualified disciples to conduct therapy somehow different from that of others?

Yes, I think so. But the variety here is astonishing. I like to think I conduct therapy with greater openness to the movement of Spirit (in and beyond the room), with a sense of hope for meaning and purpose to ultimately overcome the meaningless and godforsakeness of reality.

(4) Do the process and outcome of therapy mean anything to the Body of Christ?

Of course, and in many ways. For example, it is probably true that therapists these days administer the sacrament of confession more than priests do.

(5) Does the practice of therapy validate themes of the gospel? can....

The radical relational nature of creation and being; the power of facing into darkness and experiencing metanoia involving confession, forgiveness, and surrender of the false self; the mysterious source of life and love that is both immanent and more-than/calling one forward; the reality, darkness, light and guidance of the more-than-physical spiritual world; anxiety and alienation as core human experiences; the redeeming power of love; the need to become like children again; the power of choice....

All of these and more. But it doesn't replace the gospel either. I see my non-religious, non-Christian clients get more curious about wider horizons through therapy, often. I worry when people start treating therapy as Gospel, though.

Mark Murphy said...

Sacraments - I have more questions for my elders!

Bowman, what's the problem with the word sacrament? It's core part of our tradition, our *paradosis*. Why invent other terms?

And, Peter, how come we need to invent other categories - "sacramental actions" - for rites that all my Anglican vicars so far have persisted in simply calling "sacraments". It's rather confusing and unnecessary, isn't it? A hangover of anti-Romanist identity formation?

The Anglican Church of North America (I think) delineates "Sacraments of the Gospel" from "Sacraments of the Church". If we want to emphasize which sacraments Jesus directly created (rather than simply participated in or inspired), that's a simpler, more sensible language than "sacramental actions", isn't it?

Wouldn't it improve our ecumenical relationships with the Catholics and Orthodox overnight if we made this simple acknowledgement?

Mark Murphy said...

Cognitive behavioral therapy also deserves a more than honourable mention, being one of the most widely practiced and researched psychotherapies.

I am not a CBT practitioner, but....

Early examples of it can be found it the writings of the Stoics, e.g.:

"We are disturbed not by things, but by the principles and notions that we form concerning things." (Epicetetus)

and came to influence early Christianity, including monasticism.

In contrast to other therapies above, CBT focussed on distress caused by unbalanced cognitive schemas or negative automatic thoughts (NATs) and conditioned ways of behaving (e.g. waking up at 1.45a.m. every night, following a home invasion that ocuurred at that time).

With it's emphasis on symptom-relief, some Christians have found CBT attractive in so far as it has little to say about soul, spirit, or authentic personhood, and therefore is simpler to integrate in some respects. Others have found is more limited in the therapy-Gospel dialogue for this reason.

Anonymous said...

"core part of our tradition"

No. Why would we think that?

"Sacrament" is late Western jargon from scholastic theology that used aristotelian metaphysics to ask and answer a particular set of questions. When Lutherans quibble with say + Peter that Penance is also a sacrament by his criterion, that claim, right or wrong, is intelligible because all are Westerners using the Western tool that the word is to accomplish the same Western task-- sacrament-counting. Several centuries ago, that was a thing.

Conversely, the fathers and the East have used an altogether different mysteriology to answer another set of questions. For example, not caring to know exactly when the bread and wine in the eucharist become the body and blood, and using a rite with several actions that seem to do this, there is not and can never be a precise Eastern counterpart to the Western *sacrament* notion of a consecrating act. Which is why Western Jesuits who published editions of the Byzantine liturgical books in Kyiv with westernizing rubrics propagated confusion about that ordo that generations of Orthodox theologians have laboured to correct ever since.

*Sacrament* is not a universal concept. It does some things, but not other things.

So it sounds to me as though you are asking, why can't we pound nails with a can opener or shelve books in a library by colour, or prove theorems of geometry with rules of Indo-European syntax? And if we don't, is it because we have some wicked unreasonable prejudice against can openers or colours or IE syntax? That can't be what you really want to know.

You probably have pallets of pretty good freight but want to load it into a tank car. Why? There's no reason to leave your pallets off the train, but they won't move through a hose. They need to go in a box car. Why not just pick one and load it?

What is actually at stake for you in these inquiries about sacraments?


Mark Murphy said...

Jungian therapy, sometimes called depth psychology, has tended to excite Christians to both enthusiastic and hostile engagement.

I’m sure you are very familiar with many aspects of the Jungian approach, not least because it often seems to have had a warm reception amongst Episcopalians.

Unlike Gestalt and almost every other modern psychotherapy school, Jung had a lot to say about spirit and soul. He accepted everything Freud came up with, but thought Freud was stuck – genitally-fixated one might say - and couldn't move beyond. Yes, there are penises in my dreams, Jung sort of said, but what is the penis a symbol for?

Jung’s great and very personal discovery was that dreams weren’t just retrospective, trauma memories (which they can be), but they also had a teleological character: they pointed to what wanted to emerge, they could show a person where they were stuck and shine a way forward. Though hours and hours of flight time, much the same way a David Attenborough builds up his knowledge of the corncrake (by patiently observing it), Jung came to experience and trust the wisdom of dreams (much the same way a Gestalt therapist trusts the wisdom of the wātea). And this ‘wisdom’ isn’t merely a colourful museum catalogue, or a set of useful proverbs, it was the sort of practical guidance – WHEN ALL ELSE HAS FAILED – that enables someone beleaguered by life-sucking depression, or even cut to pieces by ground-shattering psychosis, to get well, return to life, be creative, love again.

We could stop here and insert a reading from the Wisdom of Solomon.

But of course dreams don’t speak to in the Queen’s English. They’re strange, weird. Well, weird to us now. Not so weird, Jung detailed, to most non-Western cultures, and indeed to all religions, and older, wisdom pockets and colourful artistic pockets of western culture. Which is to say: dreams are only weird to secular moderns. They are the language of spirit and soul, the creative reality of holy imagination, he simple concluded. We moderns have forgotten how to understand and speak in this colourful, symbolic language, that’s all.

I won’t go on further as you can easily get my drift here. Let me point to a disciple who beautifully embodied the Jungian-Christian dialogue, and who was aware of the contributions and limitations of both sides - the Episcopalian priest, Morton Kelsey.

Kelsey argued that almost all the early Church fathers valued dreams, and treated them as a primary way God speaks to us. Dreams are a form of revelation, a very ordinary, practical form. This simple acknowledgment – as well as other methods for opening to holy imagination – has been marginalized by modern and indeed (imageless) contemplative paradigms of Christian spirituality.

Morton believed that Jung was reminding Christianity, in an urgent, contemporary, psychologically sophisticated, non-repressive way, of one of the deep reservoirs of our classical tradition. But Kelsey also warned that the spiritual world was a potentially dangerous realm (as Jung himself knew and taught). There is as much darkness as light, as much potential for being overwhelmed, inflated, deflated, and fragmented (think Legion) as there is for guidance, support, and wholeness/integration. And it certainly *isn’t” a question of simply opposing the darkness and picking out the light, which is a quite wrong-headed, fearful, and a disintegrative way to proceed. We need guides, maps, the shelter of ancestors. Ultimately, Kelsey believed we need contact with the Risen Christ who gives Christians the confidence, boldness, and safety (we are reading Hebrews in the Lectionary right now) to ‘enter behind the curtain’…

“We have this hope, a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters the inner shrine behind the curtain where Jesus, a forerunner on our behalf, has entered, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” (Hebrews 6: 19-20).

Moya said...

I know of some who see Cognitive Behavioural Therapy as core in the faith because of Romans 12.1-2 talking about “being transformed by the renewal of your mind” and the belief that our whole self has to be impacted by the salvation that Christ offers which mainly happens through the mind. Though I find that view is probably not wide enough for the human personality.

Mark Murphy said...

Hi Moya,

Yes, I'm with you!


For any folk still reading: internet is doing strange things with my posts...correct order is Gestalt, Jungian, CBT, not the other way around. Cheers, M

Mark Murphy said...

To balance out the soul immersion of working with dreams and other forms of holy imagination, Kelsey strongly advocated for Christians to keep participating in church communal and sacramental life, to keep reading scripture, and to use one's rational capacity to reflect and think. Jung counselled similarly. This is important to note because many postmoderns have lost that sort of ground/safety/guidance/community/containment (tradition) and can often inadvertently open themselves up to and suffer quite intense psychic and spiritual overwhelm/flooding. My old teacher, Rev. Maurice Manawaroa Gray, was often called in to deal with similar spiritual car crashes, albeit in a Maori context.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Mark, for your several replies to my veritable questionnaire. Despite different and differing influences, we have a lot of common ground. God willing, there will be time to explore that next week.


Mark Murphy said...

Sacrament as a "core part of our tradition" (MM)

“No. Why would we think that?” (BW)

Because it was a core part of my fifteen-year catechesis in the Roman Catholic Church. Because it remains so for the Roman Catholic and, in the language of mysteries, Orthodox Churches.

Because nothing seemed to change in that regard when I started attending an Anglican churches ten years ago, in terms of the language and practice of liturgy, homilies, episcopacy, and catechesis.

Because every major western Christian group has meditated on and wrestled over the mystery of certain Christian rites and rituals that seem more important – for various reasons, evangelical, historical, theological, and experiential – than some other Christian rites and rituals.

Because, for whatever reason, accidental or otherwise, the word “sacrament” is the word that we most often use to language our exploration and discovery in terms of the above. Even Quakers, who have internalized and spiritualized almost most every physical element of the Christian paradosis, have spoken and still speak of receiving “sacraments” inwardly and spiritually etc. That is, they did away with the physical practice but kept the theological language (to some degree).

Because the language and practice of sacraments were central to the life of the pre- and post-reformation Ecclesia Anglicana as evidenced in their discussion and qualified inclusion in the 39 Articles (hooray!).

Because, speaking anecdotally, many Christians experience the formative and mysterious power of these rituals and rites, commonly or uncommonly called sacraments, such that if you took them away – or even renamed them – many would feel a core part of their worship and Christian pilgrimage had been lost.

“What is actually at stake for you in these inquiries about sacraments? (BW)”

Nothing, apart from all of the above, made more urgent by the secular modern tendency to disembody spirit and desoul matter.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Mark
On sacraments: am a bit short of time.
But am thinking perhaps a post on sacraments some Monday coming up would be a good thing.
Till then

Mark Murphy said...



Dear Bowman,

In response to your second set of questions regarding therapy and Christianity, the internet has swallowed up my heroic attempt at a response, which probably serves me right for being so long-winded. I’ll try again, in more human prose…

So it’s very hard to talk about something called “therapy” and compare it with “Christianity” as both are pluriform – we would just end up with very general, and not very interesting knowledge. So let me speak from two therapies I know better than most: first, Gestalt , and later I’ll post on Jungian therapy/depth psychology.

To avoid being completely long-winded, I’m just going to respond to the first of your second set of questions…

“(6) What is agreed and disagreed in the conversation between therapists and disciples of Jesus?”

…and hopefully you will get my drift from here.

So let me begin with *gestalt therapy*, which, although it very secular, uses the dialogical writings of Jewish philosopher and theologian Martin Buber as one of its philosophical foundations. Buber once wrote: “In the Beginning is the Relation”. Christians might understand this in a trinitarian way, as well as in terms of a religious anthropology. Gestaltists have taken it in this direction: *through You I become an I* (to paraphrase Buber again). Our self grows – and is wounded, and hopefully heals – through contact, encounter, relationship. Infants begin ‘mixed up’ in the otherness of their parents (and parents are formed in contact with the otherness of their kids). We continually grow and ‘self’ through our contact with the otherness of siblings, friends, family, church, society, through cognitive contact with the thought systems and beliefs that surround us, in embodied contact with the world through all our senses…through our contact, in each moment, with the more-than-human otherness of the natural world: redwoods, concrete, the quality of air in Hanmer Springs or sprawling New Delhi. “Mental health” isn’t just the product of genes, biochemistry, or patterns from childhood – it’s these things and more, above all an *ecological process* in which the boundaries of the self are not as resolute and self-sufficient as Western heroism maintains.

At this point, theologically, we might think of process theology and Christian existentialism, as well as historical approaches to understanding biblical and theological knowledge.

In the Gestalt frame, therapy becomes an encounter with the otherness of the therapist, client, couple, family, whānau, or group. For all these reasons, we trust that in the space between – what the tangata whenua of our country call the *wātea* – what is most needful for therapy will be revealed, bodily, cognitively, affectively etc. We try, as therapists, to make ourselves as consciously present as possible to the unique epiphany of the person before us, and what this evokes within me, then begin the difficult, plodding, imperfect, lively task of communicating our experience with the other: dialogue. “The limitations of dialogue are the limitations of awareness” (Buber).

Mark Murphy said...


[More probably needs to be said about the miracle of awareness, which is the chief method and goal of gestalt therapy, and bringing this into dialogue with Christian understandings of consciousness – about what sort of intelligibility is woven into creation that makes the emergence of human consciousness both possible and reliable. Interestingly, George Fox experienced the Light as ‘ that which enables us to see’, before it enables us to feel ethically – that is, consciousness flows into conscience, flows from contact with the Inner Christ, awakens our awareness and then into a sense of (moral, existential) orientation in the world. Gestalt therapy has often reminded us that consciousness is an intimately embodied process].

That’s chiefly where Gestalt therapy leaves it. I hope you can see the fertile ground for dialogue with Christianity: fine-graining a radically relational worldview into our understanding of human trauma and healing, moving beyond individualistic theologies etc., supporting a ministry of accompaniment and existential co-emergence, meditating upon the way in which Jesus ministers through authentic encounter that both ‘confirms’ and challenges others.

Buber doesn’t leave it here. The Beginning for Buber is, of course, a cosmic and pre-cosmic one. Gestaltists, naturally suspicious of religious authority, having formed within the cultural field of 1960s and 70s America, begin with human birth and maybe conception. Both are valid of course. Buber also believes that all the immanent, local otherness we encounter in the world is backgrounded by the presence of the “Eternal You” (who sometimes also becomes an intense foreground figure).

Gestalt therapists, perhaps properly so, are officially agnostic about this great Other – about a “contact boundary” with a greater, transcendent Presence, and whether this Presence is intimately part of our ‘selfing’. However, almost every gestalt therapist I know *in practice* experiences something much more than just two selves in the space between me and you. In some moments in therapy, usually when the process is completely stuck, out of words, at an impasse, mired in broken despair, if we wait long enough in the light of awareness and surrender our best knowledge and techniques, something else blows in to revive things in unexpected ways. Christians might reflect on these moments as encounter with ‘the go-between God’ (John V. Taylor).

Of course, like almost every other modern psychotherapy, it is beyond the proper bounds of Gestalt to recognize that the Eternal You speaks, has spoken, and is speaking now.

Mark Murphy said...

Thanks Peter. Sounds good. I will be busy very soon again too. Looking forward to hearing your take.

Anonymous said...

Thanks again, Mark, for responding so fully, even heroically, to my questions. It has rarely been possible to have such a constructive dialogue online.

On secular disembodiment, it sounds as though you are reaching, not for sacraments, but for what the East knows as divine energies. For example, an icon of Christ is not a sacrament-- it does not do what sacraments do-- but in virtue of the incarnation of the Son, his divine energies reside in the wood and paint. Honour through them is referred to him and even the space delimited by its presence is not like other space.

In a similar way, Lutherans most often speak of the creative Word-- "which shall not return to me unfulfilled"-- as having a few material forms: divine, written, preached, sacramental.
Note too that, although Lutherans recognize penance as a sacrament of the gospel, it is not necessarily clerically administered.

Calvinists have dematerialized grace in a way that Calvin himself did not. I find his emphasis on the horizontal, intersubjective, congregational aspect of grace helpful, and the neo-Calvinist analogy of *common grace* for the civic realm suggestive.

I could go on, but it seems better to refer back to what N T Wright has written about heaven and earth as realms that overlap visibly in the tabernacle, temple, Christ, and Body. This biblical theme informs all of the above.


MsLiz said...

Many thanks for the in-depth material you've shared in this thread Mark, I'll return to spend more time with it. New for me but looks approachable if I read through carefully and take my time.

Mark Murphy said...

That's great Bowman. Gosh, Orthodoxy looks so attractive at times.

I love the idea of divine energies (as well as mysteries, great mysteries). I reckon postmoderns would love this too.

I guess, for better or worse, we're still coping with the Greek soul/body split, which is not such an organizing feature of Hebraic, Eastern, Celtic, Māori thought etc.

Where sacraments are still a bit different than the examples you mention, it appears to me at first blush, is their irrevocably public character (one can adore an icon privately, I assume, whereas sacraments always involve, and in a way are for, the whole church community, knitting us tangibly together not just with God but also priests, congregants, and even bishops). Second the catholic apprehension of the seven sacraments as a sort of cradle to grave, divine accompaniment - great touchstones of grace in the course of one's life pilgrimage. Thinking of Tom Holland in the video you recommended: sacraments are perhaps part of the 'weirdness' of Christianity we'd be much poorer for if they were lost (or heavily pruned!). But, like other areas of theology, I'm protestant in the sense that it's not worth excommunicating people over.

Anonymous said...

Mark, a few quibbles and references.

Personally, it's paleo-orthodoxy-- roughly the Body in the first millennium-- that I find attractive. One can accept and sometimes admire the several Latin developments beyond that as missionary inculturation for the barbarian West and North without regarding them as a replacement for, or completion of, the original faith. Looking East is not so much looking over at another tradition as looking at a vigorous continuation of our own origins.

Reformers of the C16 had an inkling that this might be true. Wittenberg had an interesting correspondence with Constantinople. A few in the reforming CoE mooted replacing the pope with the eastern patriarchs. Even a C17 New England Puritan as doughty as Cotton Mather wondered how the Lord would establish a new ecumene with the East. But neither side was ready for serious dialogue until the last of the C20. Anglicans broke much of the ice.

One can generalize too rigidly about West-East differences, but characteristically and for the most part, St Augustine and the West speak of soul/body while the. *therapeia* of the Philokalia in the East follows St Paul in speaking of spirit/mind/body.

Some mystagogical implications of this triple anthropology are apparent in the three Cappadocian fathers, but the later tradition develops the seminal work of St Maximus the Confessor. Occasionally, + Peter's readers here puzzle through my citations of the most famous paragraph in Byzantine theology, one from Ambigua 41 in which Maximus relates Christ's healing of five divisions in the cosmos and in the disciple: Creator and creation, things invisible and things visible, heaven and earth, paradise and world, man and woman. That healing of these schisms in the cosmos and passions (roughly addictions) in disciples is the horizon within which everything from baptism to bell-ringing occurs as the Holy Spirit blows through all things.

The East's chief fraternal criticism of the West has been that the latter wobbles erratically between authoritarianism and enthusiasm to compensate for its weak understanding of the Holy Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead. Nearly all that happy warriors and trolls say, here or elsewhere, is recognizably that wobble. So too is a certain proceduralism in Western churches that emulates the bureaucratic.uniformitarianism of the civil state.

The former presumably do not mean to be frauds. But because their pneumatology is too weak to support a working theology of paradosis, they can never truly be the conservatives as which they pose.

That present absence of paradosis also cripples the latter insofar as they would rather make their drinking water from chemicals at cost than catch it freely from the rain in cisterns. To the East, institutional positivists seem to be competing with or preempting the more organic work of the Holy Spirit.

None of the several wikis that define Orthodoxy-- the canon of the scriptures, the decrees of ecumenical councils, the Pedalion of canon law, the liturgical ordo of St Sabba, the koinonia of St Pachomius, the Philokalia of the Neptic Fathers, the received patterns of iconography, the eight tones of Byzantine chant, etc-- came from a central authority. For the most part, the best ideas and practices have been collected far from power, adopted by bishops of the several patriarchates, and finally recognized as a loose universal standard.

A final note. The homeland of the East is not Athenian but Hellenistic, not the Greek-speaking Balkans only but Alexander's old empire. So the languages and cultures of the ancient near east are well-represented in the Orthodox mix. An examplary author you and Liz may like is St Ephrem of Edessa, the visionary hymnographer of nature who wrote in both Greek and Syriac (a close cognate of Hebrew and Aramaic).


MsLiz said...

"St Ephrem of Edessa" - new to me of course.

From Franciscan Media: 'It is surprising to read that he wrote hymns against the heretics of his day. He would take the popular songs of the heretical groups and using their melodies, compose beautiful hymns embodying orthodox doctrine. Ephrem became one of the first to introduce song into the Church’s public worship as a means of instruction for the faithful. His many hymns have earned him the title “Harp of the Holy Spirit.”'

BW, do you recommend any particular title?

Mark Murphy said...


What is the *therapeia* of Christianity? Wasn't part of my catechesis.

Mark Murphy said...

Just as the soul is the image of God, so the body is the image or echo of the soul.

- John Scots Eriugena

Man has no Body distinct from his Soul; for that call'd Body is a portion of Soul discern'd by the five Senses, the chief inlets of Soul in this age.

- William Blake

Anonymous said...

Liz and Mark, most readers of St Ephrem the Syrian have started with an English translation from Syriac of his Hymns of Paradise.

St Vladimir's Press: "In his cycle of 15 Hymns on Paradise, St. Ephrem the Syrian weaves a profound theological synthesis around the Biblical narrative of Genesis 2 and 3. In this fine Christian poetry, the author expresses his awareness of the sacramental character of the created world, and of the potential of everything in it to act as a witness and pointer to the Creator. God's two witnesses, says Ephrem, are, 'Nature, through man's use of it, [and] Scripture, through his reading it.' In his writing, Ephrem posits an inherent link between the material and spiritual worlds.

"St. Ephrem's mode of theological discussion is essentially Biblical and Semitic in character. He uses types and symbols to express meanings or relations, to reveal something that is otherwise hidden, particularly in expressing the connections between the Old Testament and the New, between this world and the heavenly, between the New Testament and the sacraments, and between the sacraments and the end of the world. Because his theology is not tied to a particular cultural or philosophical background, but operates by means of imagery and symbolism basic to all human experience, the theological vision expressed in his hymns has a freshness and immediacy even today."

Anything of or about Ephrem from Sebastian Brock is doubly valuable.

Sebastian Brock

David Taylor


Anonymous said...

Susan Ashbrook Harvey Syriac Christianity.


Anonymous said...

"What is the *therapeia* of Christianity?"

In the Byzantine and Asian christianities (see below), salvation is directly the healing (therapeia) of every passion (pathê) that disorders the mind, destroys the body, and leads to habitual sin. In Greek, the words are familiar from the usage of Stoic writers, but are considerably deepened by the analysis of idolatry and sin for practice of the Way.

Just as idolatry injures the spirit and opens the mind and body to self-destructive passions (eg trolling, porneia), so true worship of the Lord restores the spirit, enabling the dependent mind and body to resist the temptations of the powers that resist God. You've seen this before in the writings of N T Wright and in the allusions to sex with watchers in Romans 1.

So at least mild asceticism and liturgical mysticism are integral to the Eastern christianities. Belief is simply the cognition that enables these reparative practices. Whatever one's opinions, if one never fasts, disciplines passions, unites with Christ, etc one lacks the godly fear associated with authentic belief.

"Wasn't part of my catechesis."

Whether Roman Catholic or Southern Baptist, Western catechesis tacitly or explicitly assumes *original sin* not taught by the Eastern fathers, and casts most teaching into a juridical, rationalistic idiom that owes more to Latin scholasticism than to the Torah.


Now that we've established that there were four parts to the early Body, I should probably call them Celtic, Latin, Byzantine, and Asian, reserving Eastern for the latter two, everything from the Adriatic to the Loess Plateau. Syriac Christianity stimulated the hymnography and monasticism of Byzantium but truly belongs, with Copts, Georgians, and Armenians, to that extensive and diverse Asian ecumene.

The Church of the East (which has offices in Chicago today) spanned the terrain from Anatolia to Xi'an in China and Kerala in India. This penetration all the way to the ancient capital of the Middle Kingdom is testimony to the Syrian use of monasteries as bases for missions.

It's interesting to consider that St Paul's hometown of Tarsus stood amid an ancient borderland of empires. Not many generations after him, the church there was oriented far over the mountains and across the Oxus and Jaxartes. Indeed, it startles people to learn that the first translations of Buddhist sutras from Pali into Chinese were made by Aramaic-speaking monks for their own missionary purposes.


Mark Murphy said...

"So at least mild asceticism and liturgical mysticism are integral to the Eastern christianities. Belief is simply the cognition that enables these reparative practices. Whatever one's opinions, if one never fasts, disciplines passions, unites with Christ, etc one lacks the godly fear associated with authentic belief." (BW)

But they (mild asceticism, liturgical mysticism) would be part of Latin Christianity, too, yes?

And perhaps Celtic mysticism being less liturgical and more...elemental?


I like the Celtic, Latin, Byzantine, Asian framing. A place to land, to start!

Presumably he Desert Father and Mothers are part of "Asian Christianity" in this understanding, and exerted an influence on Celtic Christianity as such.

And we could add Northern (European, protestant) part following the reformation?...and a Southern (Latin American plus) part following, um, Liberation Theology?

Too early to suggest a Southern (African) part has emerged yet?

And a Northern (American) part from the 20thC?

Anonymous said...

Mark, I was just mapping the Body as it was the first millennium. The Celtic and Asian cultivars do differ from the Latin one in some similar ways, but I'm not sure how deep their mutual resemblance was. Still, taking them all seriously would leave space for reason without the rabbit holes-- and exhausted stand-offs-- of the rationalism that we have lately seen.


Anonymous said...

Asceticism in the Latin West had sane Byzantine roots (eg John Cassian) but lost its way in the second millennium when it was reinterpreted as penance within the Augustinian framework of *original sin* and a peculiar focus on the Last Judgment. Hence even Thomas Merton's complaints before Vatican II that his order was penitential rather than properly contemplative.

C16 Protestants rightly excised the penitential tumor, but overcompensated for the *contemptus mundi* of the corrupted asceticism. So Martin waxed lyrical about the joys of Katie-- the later Puritans were likewise sex-positive-- but did not re-imagine ordinary lay, married asceticism to heal the passions in the Lord.

Instead, Lutherans and the Reformed quarreled about the *third use* of the law, the former denying it and the latter affirming it. Either way, the result is mere *sin management* in lives otherwise shaped by consumerism, careerism, and now politics.

That is not in Christ. By its fruits, we know it.


Anonymous said...

After the M1, new cultivars on the periphery of the old ecumene are probably best understood at their interfaces with their respective missions. Finland is not Mexico is not Kenya is not Korea is not New Zealand.


Mark Murphy said...

I wonder if Roman Catholicism, in it's Franciscan/Doth American-inspired movement towards a synodal church, is currently attempting to move beyond the obsessive, spirit-constraining excesses of Latin rationality?

Mark Murphy said...

Celtic asceticism (or therapeia) - if these are the right words for it - is different still. It seems Pelagius's affirmation of the image of God in-tact in each newborn was not peculiar to him. He took refuge in the Celtic West having been excommunicated and banished from Rome, when Augustine and the African bishops finally overcome the justice of the Pope, Church courts, etc.

His crimes? Teaching women to read scripture and writing letters to young Christians saying things like this:

"When God pronounced that his creation was good, it was not only his hand had fashioned every creature; it was that his breath had brought every creature to life. Look too at the great trees of the forest; look at the wild flowers and the grass in the fields; look even at your crops. God's spirit is present within all plants as well."

"You will realize that doctrines are inventions of the human mind as it tries to penetrate the mystery of God....It is not believing in Christ that matters; it is becoming like him."

"First, then, you ought to measure the good of human nature by reference to it's Creator."

And yet the Celtic world was not without evil, threat, and darkness, and Pelagius was not without his own conception - rather more addiction than original sin - of human frailty and corruption. But the remedy was different because the diagnosis was too.

Mark Murphy said...

Making links:

"[After he returned from Gaul to Cumbria,] Ninian modelled his mission not in the Roman town and diocesan structure but on the Eastern monastic model more suited to the still essentially rural and tribal nature of the Celtic lands. Thus begun a distinctively Celtic mission to the Picts and Britons of present-day Scotland. It consisted of clusters of monks living in community in rural Celtic settlements, the monasteries acting as centres of Christian life and prayer, as well as of education and mission."

J. Philip Newell

Anonymous said...

Very interesting- I was just reading yesterday in Bede's Historia Ecclesiastica book 2 chapter 29, Pope John IV's letter to the Scottish bishops to sort out the date of Easter and to deal with the resurgence of Pelagianism:
Et hoc quoque cognovimus, quod virus Pelagianae haereseos apud vos reviviscit.
Evidently the Scots had not been vaccinated with mRNA Augustinianism.

But as Peter (and I) know, the Pelagian virus goes through endless mutations, even in the school of hard Knox.

Pax et bonum
William Greenhalgh

Anonymous said...

Mark, the standard view is that St Augustine of Hippo is almost without peer among the early fathers but is also a somewhat eccentric African. To some, that only explains his genius; to others, it explains why theologies based only on his have been unable to absorb the Eastern consensus.


Moya said...

I am a true Augustinian by nature and upbringing but it seems to me that the Scriptures teach both believing in Christ and becoming like Christ and that the two should not be separated. But they often are in teaching or practice. There is no essential conflict between faith and action but some emphasise one and some the other. And Luther wasn’t very happy with the inclusion of James in the New Testament!

Mark Murphy said...

Hi Moya,

Be careful who you take as a patron saint!

The 'believing, becoming' quote from Pelagius needs a bit of context: it was a polemical statement, and a comment on the state of Roman Christians. When Pelagius started living in Rome, he was shocked by the moral conduct of local Christians.

Pelagius very carefully and fully defended orthodox belief numerous times, including in a statement to the Pope, after he was accused of heresy by Augustine.

Despite being cleared by the Pope, courts, and even church councils, Augustine wouldn't stop, kept hounding him with the backing of the African bishops, and eventually had him excommunicated (from the Church - and God!). So much for the preeminent Church Father and high peak of Western theology, but it really proved Pelagius's initial point. Of course, this is a very relevant contemporary issue (Christians who aggressively defend so called orthodox belief, and behave rather appalingly in the process).

Since then Pelagius has been mainly reconstructed on the basis of his opponents' writings against him, mainly Augustine, and turned into an ism for theology assignments: Why was Augustine right to condemn the heresy of Pelagianism? etc.

More recently he has been treated more sympathetically, mainly after we have had better access to his original words. Contemporary commentators also perceive his influence in the more positive approach to creation and life - God as the Life of the world, not just it's 'religious aspect' - that characterizes Celtic Christian prayer and spirituality.