Thursday, November 30, 2006

Alas, more News

It seems these days one can count on so-called orthodox bishops and canons penning pontifications succeeding less as arguments than rude gestures. The latest example of the phenomenon came in Bishop Schofield's reaction (PDF) to a letter from PB Jefferts-Schori:

The Episcopal Church, as an institution, is walking a path of apostasy and those faithful to God’s Word are forced to make painful choices

The comment displays an ignorance of the nature of "apostasy" as traditionally conceived, an ignorance lamentable on account of the moral gravity with which his commentary is properly received. I think he ought to know better than to speak this way in public as an officer of the catholic church.

Agreed, if it were true that the Episcopal Church were in apostasy the faithful would have to make tough choices. But what should he mean by "apostasy", and in that sense or senses, is the Episcopal Church really there?

We are required to keep various distinctions in mind: of course apostasy a fide should be kept straight from from the pair apostasy ab ordine (roughly renouncing one's ordination) and apostasy a religione (roughly renouncing one's vows). But apostasy a fide seems rather inapplicable in the case of the Episcopal Church, as it requires a willing renunciation of the Christain religion, a willing renunciation, not an accidental one but one made deliberately. It would not be apostasy in the relevant sense for TEC to adopt a false doctrine while believing the Christian faith required it. Now TEC in such a case may stand in material heresy, but that is not to be confused with the more serious formal heresy and is insufficient for apostasy. Or, in other words, it is not clear that, speaking of the same church, (1) implies (2) or that either (1) or (2) implies (3):

(1)The church is in material heresy.
(2)The church is in formal heresy.
(3)The church is in apostasy.

As with accusations that TEC is heretical following the acts of GC2003, we see--I believe--a propensity among TEC's high-profile critics to assume the worst without cogent argument. Namely, their pronouncements of heresy and apostasy imply--as astounding as it may seem--they belileve TEC recognizes (say) that an active homosexual man should not be ordained, and does it anyway, or that TEC has knowingly abandoned the Christian religion.

TEC's critics are on thin moral ice here. Their sustained imputation of the worst to TEC--in the face of what seems to me absolutely overwhelimg evidence to the contrary--could be merely innocent ignorance. Maybe, just maybe they really do, incredibly, in their hearts see TEC as proclaiming what it takes to be false or willfully abandoning the Christian religion. In doing so they rule out the possibility that TEC simply made a mistake, or is doing the best it can and has stumbled, or is just being sincere even if in a misguided way--all this conceding for the sake of argument that a theological mistake was made at GC2003, which I think is far from clear.

On the other hand, if these critics are being cynical, if they are not making these inflammatory imputations in innocent ignorance then we are witnessing the exercise not merely of vices contrary to faith, but of vices contrary to charity: Hatred, Discord, Contention, and dare I say Schism. The hardening of any "theological vices" is a matter of grave, even ultimate concern, but vices contrary to charity are are dispostions opposed to the very nature of God, and merit extremely close attention. Not just attention to critics of TEC, as if any mere human could discern what they were really about, but attention to ourselves as friends of TEC who will no doubt be drawn into even greater, more intense unpleasantness over the upcoming attempt at schism.

Whatever develops, the loss of property, even dioceses, and the possible loss of a seat in the Anglican Communion fail to measure up to the cost of developing the vice of hatred in any of its deformations. Let us proceed, so far as we can with God's help, in such a way that our Christian community in whatever form it takes as the rancor fades retains some due measure of charity.

12 Comments:

At 12:15 PM, Anonymous DGus said...

While I can't speak for Bishop Schofield, you seem to be on a very different wavelength from his--and one that is, may I say, eccentric. I'll assume that, canonically speaking, the distinctions you urge are sound, so that under canon law "apostasy" is as narrow and disinctive as you say. Is that your point? Many of us are less interested in canon law (if that's your subject) and more interested in the concept of apostasy as it appears in Scripture and--in particular--in the Apostolic prophecies of apostasy. When I read Bishop Schofield's comment, his observations resonated with the New Testament teachings about "falling away" (which I understand translates the Greek word for "apostasy")--passages like 2 Thessalonians 2:3. In your narrower usage, "apostasy" must (you suggest) involve a knowing and willful denial of what one knows to be the truth; but I have never wondered (and am not very curious) whether the apostates warned of in Matthew 24:24, Acts 20:29, 2 Timothy 3, 2 Peter, and Jude are all deliberate and cynical liars, or whether some of them might be, in their own way, sincere because they have gotten to the point where they actually "believe a lie" (2 Thess. 2:11).

Sincerity may relieve the false teacher of canonical penalties. It may even, I pray, mitigate his guilt before God. But that he genuinely "believes a lie" (2 Thess 2:11) doesn't alter his status as "condemned" (2 Thess. 2:12). He's an apostate, if a sincere apostate.

Thus, without presuming to judge someone else's heart, one can and must make objective judgments about a teacher being a false teacher, a heretic, an apostate. And while it would be possible to be hateful or rancorous in making and declaring such judgments, one could also be cautious, humble, loving, and grieving in doing so. Jesus' instruction to "Beware of false prophets" (Matt 7:15) explicitly presumes that Christians have a duty--and possess a competence--to recognize error in the midst of the Church. It is simply not possible that, whenever someone fulfills that Christ-ordained duty, he is necessarily being hateful.

Such judgments can be made objectively, without judging individuals. On the other hand, judging a critic to be "hateful" is a judgment one simply cannot make without actually knowing his heart. I can't tell whether, about Bishop Schofield in particular, you actually intend to pronounce the judgment that he is guilty of being "cynical" and of exercising "vices contrary to charity" such as "Hatred," or whether instead you stop short of that and merely make innuendo to that effect. If you have been granted supernatural revelation to know Bishop Schofield's heart, then you could make such a judgment. In the meantime, however, all you can say is that he has made an objective judgment about the Episcopal Church being on "the path of apostasy" (not a subjective condemnation of any individual). He could be incorrect in his judgment--but not because the good folks in the Episcopal Church mean well, and their hearts are in the right place. They could be sincere, but sincerely wrong.

Only God can judge the thoughts and intents of the hearts of the leaders of the Episcopal Church--or of its critics. But Christians CAN and must judge whether given teaching is the truth, and whether a given teacher is a false teacher.

 
At 2:41 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

Thank you for your comment. I'm not coming from canon law, but rather from the high medieval understanding of apostasy in Aquinas as received and developed by Roman Catholicism.

I'd be happy to argue within a stricter and clearer Thomistic frame, but that would get too heady too quickly, so I was working instead with a rather unremarkable, even boring, understanding derived from the RCC.
It may be a dry perpective, but not, in view of my (mundane) company, "eccentric". The tradition represented by the RCC far outnumbers that represented by any other Christian denomination/branch, so I hope I would have a case for claiming it represents the mainstream, for what that's worth.

I.
The points you raise are quite good, and lead me back to first things (my apologies, but I do hope we have common ground here at least): you and I are not God, we are creatures; God is omniscient, but we are not; theology is primarily only God's knowledge of himself, and secondarily what he reveals to us entirely as he sees fit.

Whatever is revealed to us cannot be God's self-understanding--it will be different and in being different will fall short of God's absolute perfection. That is, whatever we know of revelation we can know only imperfectly, and worse: in such a way that we cannot comprehend the measure of imperfection in its fullness.

No judgement we make--we can make--is closed to revision under Christ or any of the Persons of the Trinity, for that matter. Indeed, we already know our asserions will lack the requisite qualification for Truth; we are, in short, thrown into a condition whose only permissible epitemic modality is humility.

As I read you, your comments lack the epistemic humility necessary to Christian practice, even if what they call for includes gentleness, charity, et al. For the accusation of heresy or apostasy you believe the Bible permits us stands nude of any modesty, indeed naked of the fear and trembling that ought to accompany the exercise of judgement over fellow Christians. For in making the charge, the judge being human could be wrong. You cannot seriously deny the possibility of error in human endeavor, even graced endeavor.

I do not have any idea whether Schofield is being cynical or not, whether the water is indeed murky or to what degree if any it is fouled. But there is a distinct possibility for all I know that to some finite degree he or those camped with him are being cynical; I think without judging them I can exercise the duty of fraternal correction (which cannot after all call for certianty on my part--and I am ready to repent here) by raising a warning, a red flag as it were.

II.
The flase prophets of Matt. 24, Acts 20's warning of savage wolves to come, the unholy slanderers with the mere outward form of holiness in 2Tim, the slandering false prophets and teachers of 2Peter2, and the false teachers of Jude--none of this makes your case.

You seem to think that the faults alluded to in such passages concern merely intellectual error, rather than also--and critically--
a degree of deliberate moral perfidy.

I cannot follow that interpretation: the moral perfidy that makes these false teachers so horrifying is just the vice that Schofield himself seems he might be in danger of--being closed to correction and chastisement by God. One way of being closed is lacking the proper epistemic humility, thinking that one's necessarily imperfect understanding suffices as a real foundation for moral judgement apart fom the possibility of correction by God. That is of course demonic in its attempt to personally usurp the position of God.

III.
It seems you have therefore missed the essence of apostasy, and once again a grave term whose fast and easy use should be a matter of ultimate concern has been deployed with an alarming and if I may say rather unbecoming levity. Of course, I may be wrong.

 
At 5:10 PM, Anonymous DGus said...

I see. So while I SAY that in making a judgment about heresy, one should be "cautious, humble, loving, and grieving," you sense that, instead, I actually "lack the epistemic humility necessary to Christian practice," and that I "believe the Bible permits us to stand[] nude of any modesty, indeed naked of ... fear and trembling." I think I see your method. It is not Thomistic. I’m not sure what to call it. Your analysis seems to resort to your own conviction of the subjective: Schofield is bad because his conclusion about apostasy is (you think) hateful; TEC liberals can’t possibly be "apostates" because their errors, if they are errors, are (you think) not deliberate; my comments are wrong because I am (you think) immodest and not humble. I would say in reply that this subjective analysis is beyond your competence and beyond your authority. Ironically, this analysis falls afoul of the "Judge not" principle (Matt 7:1) that a careless reader might think you were trying to vindicate.

If I may say, the thing you should be discussing most, if you want to engage Schofield and his ilk, is not whether TEC liberals mean well (I assume they do), nor whether their critics are grumpy carping mean guys (let’s assume arguendo that they are), but instead whether TEC falls under the Scriptural condemnation of false teachers. On that question, your argument that TEC is NOT properly judged apostate seems to rest on propositions such as--

1. You suggest that false teachers are never sincere, misguided people but are always conscious, deliberate, cynical liars--so that sincere people could never be apostate. I pointed out that they may sincerely "believe a lie" but are nonetheless "condemned" (2 Thess 2:11-12), and I don’t hear your answer.

2. You say that false teachers are characterized not by "merely intellectual error" but "also--and critically--a degree of deliberate moral perfidy." There’s that word "deliberate" again, for which I don’t see your Scriptural support. But I agree with you at least to this extent: The Scriptures do warn that the message of some of the false teachers will be a pseudo-Christianity that approves of sexual immorality. (2 Tim. 3:1-7; 2 Peter 2; Jude 4, 7-8, 18-19.) Approving of sexual immorality. Let’s see. What Church could THAT be relevant to?

3. You say that "whatever we know of revelation we can know only imperfectly," so we can never judge anyone else’s ideas as wrong. OK, you don’t actually say that. But truly, you might as well. Your counsel of "humility" would have stymied the young Athanasius at Nicea, since the aged and pious Arius exceeded TEC’s liberals and conservatives (for all I can tell) in apparent personal devotion.

Of course humility is a virtue, but it is not humility to fail to be loyal to the revealed truth. Yes, it’s correct that we now only "understand in part" (1 Cor. 13:12), but we DO "understand in part." The God who revealed is the God who made us and knows our frame. The upshot of your argument is that our humanity makes revelation effectively impossible, and makes God an incompetent revealer. But this is not so.

I’m trying to imagine how the conversation in Eden might have gone if you had been there:

Snake: "Yea, hath God said not to eat of the Tree?"

Eve: "God said, 'Ye shall not eat of it, lest ye die.'"

Snake: "Ye shall not surely die, but if you eat it you’ll be like God."

Eve: "But that sounds like Satanic arrogance and usurpation."

AS: "Not so fast, Eve--a little more epistemic humility, please. No judgment we make is closed to revision. You can’t really be sure whether God said, or what God said, or what it really meant. And in fact, your insistence that puny little you knows the mind of God about fruit-eating is the very sin that you say you fear--presuming to be like God!"

Or something like that? Say it ain’t so.

 
At 7:28 PM, Blogger Randy Muller said...

I think the definition of "apostasy" Bp. Schofield was using was closer to this common definition:

a total desertion of or departure from one's religion.

Given repeated statements by many Bishops, including Bp. Jefferts Schori, for example, that Jesus is not the only way to God, in direct contradiction to the Bible, not to mention the tradition as received from the Apostles, I think the description fits.

"Many are called, but few are chosen."

 
At 10:42 AM, Blogger Grace said...

Randy,

Do most of the bishops of the church believe that Jesus is not the only way to God, let alone the majority of people actually sitting in the pews? How can it be declared that the entire episcopal church is apostate, and the only recourse is schism. I can't see it.

In the visible church there will always be problems and even heresies that surface. Tares are going to be mixed with the wheat. Is the answer just to walk away from our brothers and sisters in Christ? Viewing the church in a universal sense, I can't see that this is any kind of solution. Especially as Jesus prayed for us to be one in Him.

 
At 12:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think one of the reasons AS's discussion of the received meaning of "apostasy" is important is that it illustrates one of the ways that +Schofield et al. are failing to engage with what they find problematic within the Episcopal Church. Presumably, +Schofield thinks that TEC is becoming un-Christian; it's much easier, then, to label the church as apostate, than to work to convince people that his position is correct. The ill-used label "apostate" works to cover up what's really going on--that Christianity for +Schofield involves particular ideas of gender, sexuality (and, therefore, the body), and so forth.

 
At 2:30 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

dGus,
OK, I'll say it: It just ain't so.

But seriously, your questions seem quite good, so I am going to try to address as amny points of yours as I can.

First, poor Bishop Schofield: I really have no idea whether he is being sincere or not; if he is not, then there is a moral problem. Consider some cases:
(a) Schofield says "I believe TEC has become apostate. To the best of my knowledge, which of course falls short of infallibility in this instance, TEC is apostate and we as a diocese should act accordingly."
(b) Schfield says "TEC is apostate, and I know this with such certianty that there is no chance I am wrong. In this instance at least, I am infallible."
Now, how should we read Scofield's claims, in line with (a), where he exhibits epistemic humility, or in line with (b) where he does not? I just cannot tell even to the point of preponderance of eveidence, much less reasonable doubt or certainty. But if he were on the balance speaking from epistemic humility, a la (a), I would have no special problem with how he is speaking, even if it led him into schism. Why? Because even in doing so, he would--having deliberated from within epistemic humility--be ready to see if he is wrong and repent.

Now, you seem to think without infallible knowledge on an occasion or issue, one should not act. I disagree--we almost never have infallible knowledge, and yet we are often called upon to act regardless; this is just part and parcel of our condition in this state. We simply cannot generally attain infallible knowledge, and there is nothing God can do about it short of changing or destroying our nature. Why? By our nature we are Other than God, and so we are less perfect than God, namely imperfect. We are incapable of the type of perfect cognitive acts that God is capable of--and God cannot simply make another God. Thus, we should expect the church to act with imperfect knowledge: there it stands; it can do no other.

As an upshot, the church may make moral and theological mistakes, and so may its members--does not history bear out the truth of this? One thing that marks out the church and its members as holy is their disposition to Repent when they learn they are in error. Proceeding with epistemic humility, the church and its members are ever ready to repent should they be learn they are in error. But proceeding without humility but rather hubris, one is not ready to repent--one is in effect sealing oneself off in vain as best as one can against reproof and repentance. This is quite dangerous, as denying repentance is turning one's back on God's forgiveness.

To turn to the Graden of Eden case, two things are awry in your drama. First, Eve's knowledge may indeed be imperfect: she could be confused about the nature of God's prohibition or the sincerity of God's command, There would be nothing wrong--if she is sincerely confused--in her appealing to God for help, seeking him out perhaps in prayer. But even if she were not confused, and believed without reasonable doubt she understood the command, she might nevertheless recognize her understanding of it is not infallible: that there are possibilities unreasonable to her, say, that might for all she knows obtain and defeat her understanding. So what? She is not the type of entity that can have infallible knowledge of what to do in such instances--and yet she is STILL obligated to act. Like the church, like all Christians here below, Eve would have been obliged to act beyond her strict knowledge. That is not the heart of the problem. For in that her condition is ours, without respect to the Fall.

As it stands in the text, however, I think we are to believe that her wrongdoing was done with malice aforethought; she believed she was doing wrong in doing what she did. Her case does not really suit our discussion, which would require someone erring who was justified in believing he or she was doing good.

Finally, contrary to your three points (1-3) above:
1')False prophets may be sincere most of the time, and even on occasion when they are delivering prophesy. The key is that they are disposed to the vice of sinful unbelief, so that for the most part, they prophesy falsely knowing that they lie, or failing in some other epistemic duty.

2')Yeah, a sinful will is required for a sinful act. The Bible is not a handbook of utilitarian (or consequentialist) ethics; that is just silly. Your quotes about sexual immorality are best read, I suggest, against the backdrop of Romans 1: social advocacy of sexual sins involves an exchange of one type of desire that is permitted for another that is sinful. But exchange is not the kind of activity carried out while sleepwalking; it is consciously done. So, someone who believes sinful desire S is permitted by the Bible, and has fulfilled other relevant epistemic duties like remaining informed about the theology and scholarship around the question is not sinning in saying S is permitted by the Bible. That is not to absolve the party for responsibility for damages that accrue to the error, but those consequences are distinct from the act of assent to the biblical permissibility of S.

And gee, you still have to prove TEC erred at GC2003. I have sound arguments in its support.

(3')No, humility would not have stymied Athanasius. He could well recognize he is obliged to do theology, to act, under conditions of imperfect knowledge. Indeed, he did not comprehend the metaphysics of the Trinity and Incarnation--indeed, his failure to comprehend follows as a corollary of the Faith--and nevertheless he managed to defend the cognitive content of the Faith. More eveidence for my case, I suppose.

A couple points in closing:
Yes, believing a lie always leads to condemnation. Please explain how that contradicts me. If Joe tells lie X, and I believe X knowing that Joe lied, then my assent is sinful. What is the problem? Your reading requires the gratuitous assumption that is not given in the text of Scripture, but that you (knowingly? Deliebrately?) read in anyway, despite the warning of the Revelator not to do such a thing, that in my example I do NOT believe that Joe lied, and sin anyhow in assenting to X. Try again.

No, you do not seem to recognize that Thomas devotes a whole question to the fear of God as a virtue, and calls for its cultivation among Christians; this is not fear as respect and awe, but fear rooted in the recognition that God can annihilate us without affecting his Joy in the least. Thus, to theologize as Paul calls for with fear and trembling is not only biblical, but, alas!, in accord with Thomas.

 
At 2:40 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

randy,
Bishop Scofield's idiosyncratic use of "apostasy" is just a pet stipulation to suit his needs--it clearly does not accord with centuries of Christian tradition. Whether he errs in this regard out of lamentable ignorance or audacious malice, we cannot tell, but an understanding of apostasy as mere intellectual error is simply wrong. He has no right to the term.

Moreover, he is inflating claims of error to suit his case; he has no sufficient proof that our PB is a pluralist, or that she has wholsale left Christianity, even as intelectual error, mush less with malice.

Even granting his sincerity, it looks like the poor Bishop is just a big ol' Clown whose act has long ceased to be funny; it's just pathetic.

 
At 5:32 PM, Blogger Tobias said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At 5:34 PM, Blogger Tobias said...

sorry for the very sloppy typing! the heat is off due to plumbing work and my fingers are frozen! that should have been: "It may be... just may... that some of this talk of fallibility or infallibility is related to the creeping consequentialist ethic I see abroad. People want to feel more "secure" in their decisions, not only for the sake of the decision itself, but somehow as a way to mitigate negative consequences of their actions. Just a thought."

 
At 4:38 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

What bothers me: the notion that if the end looks righteous enough, immoral means are permitted. One would have thought that biblical traditionalists would have known better, but it seems to me that those--if any--following the Chapman Memo script or those ignoring or even trying to justify Akinola's persecution of homosexuals, to take two recent high-profile examples, rationalize their behavior by saying to themselves the "good" consequences justify the serpentine paths.

When one steps back to consider the nature of the deed Schofield proposes, its negative enormity shocks. One would expect rational agents to have cogent arguments and cause beyond a reasonable doubt--at least. Schofield lacks these; his case depends on attributing a willful perversity to the General Convention that is simply beyond belief.

Not only that, but a timetable is already in place in the Anglican Communion highly favorable to his cause--he can hardly think the covenant process is likely to work against him, esp seeing who Rowan has put in charge. But he is unwilling to wait; it must be done, all of it, now, right now, or hellfire and damnation will overtake them! Like a child having a tantrum, stomping and snorting.

It reminds me of George W Bush rushing headlong to war with Iraq for reasons that turned out to be a mirage, a figment, when the interests of the United States would have been better served by patient cooperation with the United Nations. Just so, Schofield's interests would have been better served by patient cooperation with Rowan and the instruments of authorityalready in place--and sympathetic to his case--in the Communion. It seems in both cases, the result is likely to be destruction and devestation despite the promises of roses and cakewalks: evidence of a curious desire for nothingness, for entropy, for the wearing down and breaking down of catholic order, for the spread and proclamation of Chaos.

 
At 1:08 AM, Blogger Jon said...

I wouldn't bet money on the Covenant being in his favor in any simple or direct way. Whatever the Covenant says it will have to be approved by at least half of the Communion, and probably more like 2/3rds before it could be used as a club to beat up on unconsenting provinces. In the meantime the PB is demonstrating just how well she can play the politics to get things to go as much in her favor as possible. The more successful she is the more reason conservatives have to be worried.

Jon

 

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