Friday, March 21, 2008

reading & the anglican right

The latest dust-up, this time over the canonical status of the HoB votes to depose Bishops Cox and Schofield, is ripe for reflection.

Critics and defenders of the vote seem to approach the canons with a curious strategy, namely that the meaning of the text can be apprehended in abstraction from how the text was read--and acted upon--in the past. That is, in the case of the canons, critics seem to interpret the text in abstraction from tradition, according to how it seems to make sense in their own eyes at the moment.

Here's an illustrative comment:

Now let me list three phrases. Those who think the depositions were canonically valid, would you please be kind enough to point out the one phrase that is not like the others:

1) “all Bishops entitled to vote”
2) “by a majority of those present”
3) “whole number of Bishops entitled to vote”

I am not sure why, Mark, you don't seem to think that phrases 1 and 3 have a common meaning, with 2 being the odd man out. Instead, you seems to believe that phrase 1 is the odd man out, with 2 and 3 having the common meaning.I think the canons are very clear as to what the required number of consents are, the this number was simply not obtained. [boldface added]

What is all this thinking based on? Who knows--maybe what strikes competent users distributively as obvious? Would this be a sound approach to Holy Scripture? Rubrics?

The temptation to try to encapsulate the normative content of a historical practice--like voting or praying--in a declarative sentence or two seems absurd. That approach would not do well when it comes to learning to tango, or learning how to ride a bike, or learning to love; in all these cases there is something more to the practice in question than can be learned reading books. Nobody, I hope, would dream of writing a book exhausting the significance of Macbeth or Heart of Darkness, but when it comes to the peculiar darkness and ambiguity of the canons, are matters significantly different?

Another way of putting the point woule be to refer to Kripke's reading of Wittgenstein on the rule-following paradox, but perhaps that is using a cannon to kill a gnat. There are a number of other ways to drive the point home: rules gather meaning only from being embedded in wider practices.

Thus, the relevant question for anyone questioning the HoB vote is whether those votes to depose are logically consistent with other instances. Do they fit with precedent? If they do, there is insufficient ground to object on the basis of the canons themselves--though one could well object on other grounds, say, that the canon or its practice ought to change. Thus, I think one should read this comment from T19,

Using the you cite figures from 2006, it really boils down to this: do you need a vote by 32 Bishops in order to depose a Bishop who is alleged to have abandonned the Communion of this church, or do you need 142?

as an inadvertently disguised claim for formally revising the canon. As settling the meaning of the canons in question, it's not the right kind of consideration to carry that kind of weight.

I am unsure how history breaks on this question, although from the fragments I have gathered it seems the HoB has not always followed the critics' reading, and in fact bishops have been deposed with a procedural variety seeming on its face to defy the gravity requisite for such proceedings in critics' eyes.


At 2:12 PM, Anonymous Anthony said...

The critics' and defenders' underlying assumption seems to be that each canon has an ideal true meaning that we must strive to intuit. Platonism.

At 1:28 AM, Blogger Jon said...

Platonism? Maybe, but only if that is normal for lawyers as a class. It makes more sense to me to suggest that they hold (as many do, I think) that the canons and laws mean whatever they say. The debate is about what they actually say, based on grammer (primarily) and precedent (secondarily).

I think the piece that bothers me most about the whole mess is the way some have claimed it shows that 815 is out to get anyone who disagrees with some sort of liberal orthodoxy. The rest looks like normal lawyerly bickering.


At 10:57 AM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

Grammar & precedent both need to be considered--grammar alone being insufficient.

There are bishops still in TEC who are quite conservative. 815 has left them alone. The people it seems to be going after have demontrated a desire and have pursued a course of action aiming at schism, and these schismatics show absolutely no signs whatsoever of abating.

It seems to me that fact about them is significant: they are not being pursued because of their conservatism; the are being pursued because they intend schism.


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