Thursday, September 29, 2005

Griffiss’ Anglican Vision, Ch. 5: “Anglican Believing”

At the Eucharist, we say the Nicene Creed, and in both the Offices and the Baptismal Covenant, the Apostles’ Creed. In so doing, we are making a “fundamental commitment” to God that will determine our way of life. That commitment does not require that the propositions of the Creeds be true. Their propositional content is tentative, as most of our language about God must be, and is even open to being proven false and replaced. Our commitment to God does not require that we know what God is, or how the Incarnation takes place, as our commitment is an act relating us to a reality that exceeds the descriptive power of our language. The relating act does not require the truth of the description employed. Such a relating act of commitment is belief in, rather than belief about; such belief in, rather than belief about, goes into constituting the Church, making it a “community of faith.”

The propositional content of the Creeds is not otiose—it has a role to play. The propositional content of the Creeds is an “integral” part of the Church’s storytelling about God: something the Church is obligated to do in the world. That content in its sharpness exceeds what is required to get the point across: namely, Christ is both fully human and genuinely God. The Church makes a God known to the world who became human in Christ, despite the fact that we lack good answers about how this union of divinity and humanity in Christ came about. Answers are not required for our being a community of faith—God is with us nevertheless, continuing to transform us as he wills in the tension of our imperfect understanding and practice.

In his life Christ did not give us propositional answers about the nature of the Incarnation to pass on in the Church, but showed us what God is like as a person. We are given a life that models God in relation to us, to our very humanity. Why is this significant?

Griffiss claims we are split apart in our lives here below, on the one hand desiring God, and yet on the other hand idolizing ourselves. This fragmentation is self-defeating; we intend unity, and the only way that can occur is in a union of love with God. He implies we cannot cease desiring God—it is part of our nature, such that unified personhood cannot come by dropping desire for God and falling into mere self-idolatry.

Christ’s life is given over in obedience to the Father: it is not just (a) an Incarnate life, but (b) a human life in which the will of God is transparent, such that God’s will shines through his life. It is a life lived without self-idolatry, in loving union with God. While we cannot emulate Christ’s being the Word Incarnate, we can emulate the transparency of his life to God’s will, entailing a dethronement of the idolized self. To be transparent to God’s will is to live in a union of love with God; paradoxically, for me to be so transparent is for my self, my person, to come to fruition in its natural unity.

While other humans have modeled a life lived in transparent obedience to God, such as Mary the mother of Jesus, they did not do so to the degree that Jesus did. However, that fact might be merely accidental—perhaps there have been, for instance, martyrs who suffered much more in similar obedience.

Even so, no other life lived in such obedience was a life of a human also genuinely divine. The fact Christ was God Incarnate lends authority to that kind of life; one could not take that kind of life as having ultimate significance for us if he were not fully divine. And yet if we were unable to worship him, his life would not have ultimate meaning for us—it would not be the final word on how we should live. That is, we would be wrong to make a fundamental commitment in reciting the Creeds if the Creeds were wrong about Christ’s divinity. Our belief in God as revealed in the life of Christ is a matter of identity for Anglicans: ceasing to believe in that revealed God is to cease to be the Church.

Yet, the showing formulated in the Creed was non-propositional. There is little of substitutionary atonement in Griffiss’ account-=-and that will no doubt give fits to right-wing Anglicans. Rather, it seems to me Griffiss is saying that Christ’s life obligates us to worshipful emulation—and it could not have so obligated us were his life not one of a human also genuinely divine.

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