Saturday, September 10, 2005

Griffiss' Anglican Vision, Ch.s 2-3, Pt. II

Griffiss’ The Anglican Vision, Ch. s 2-3: Movements Within Anglicanism

Although preceded by the imposing figure of Richard Hooker, movements within Anglicanism do not and in fact need not regard him as a doctor or founder of the Church; in our tradition he is not on par with Aquinas for Roman Catholics, Luther for Lutherans or Calvin for Presbyterians. For us, theological plurality is easier to come by—and not as a matter of mere comprehensiveness. Whatever the merit of comprehensiveness as a virtue of sorts, plurality in Anglicanism has not gone hand in hand with brotherly tolerance. These movements were given to competition, to schism, to choking one another off at least in polemic and vitriol. Taking a historical view, there is ample precedent for the current unpleasantness in ECUSA and the AC: more of the same, just closer to us and larger-scale. While that does not make such animosity or antipathy morally permissible, it may make it easier to understand.

A Host of Movements Within Anglicanism
The eighteenth century birthed twins who continue even today in fierce competition with each other: Deism and the Evangelical Movement. Deism grew out of a reaction to attacks on human reason from powerful Catholic thinkers advocating a bifurcation between Roman Catholicism and skepticism: the success of Newtonian mechanics especially lent credibility to a middle ground between those extremes dominated by secular reason. For deists, Anglicanism was to be “an enlightened moralism which had little room for religious emotion” and a body in which authority rested on “reasoned consent” rather than, say, something historically dubious like apostolic succession. Preaching was to serve the inculcation of obedience to this rational moralism; sacraments were de-emphasized. Being completely governed by laws, nature had no room for miracles, revelations, and divine intervention: the doctrine of the Incarnation was neglected.

The contemporary descendent of deism in the Anglican Communion, Anglican Modernism, grew in reaction to another more recent wave of scientific success. In particular, science in the nineteenth century challenged the authority of Scripture. Darwinism overturned a certain reading of “Genesis” and offended sensibilities convinced that evolution was inconsistent with our being in the image of God. German higher criticism challenged the traditional understanding of how the OT was inspired; it uncovered layers of history in its composition, inaccuracies, and multiple authors involved in a process of editing stretching over centuries. This criticism extended to the NT challenged the historicity of Jesus’ miracles, and even of his resurrection. While some (I am tempted to say “descendents of the Evangelicals”) simply reasserted the older views in the teeth of this newer criticism, modernists or the Broad Church movement, which opened with Essays and Reviews in 1860, accepted both the new science and the new biblical criticism. The truth of God must incorporate all human truth; Christianity should de-emphasize its traditional historical foundation and become more “spiritual”.

The Evangelical Movement responded first to Deism, and then to Modernism. It began with the Wesleys, who led a revival in England and America across denominations, ethnicities, and races, “emphasizing personal conversion through the atoning work of Christ’s death on the cross and insisting on the importance of biblical preaching.” Evangelicals appealed to the heart, inculcating a personal moral discipline in believers, and preaching the Gospel with the aim of converting as many as possible. The leadership of the Anglican church in England and America unfortunately resisted the evangelicals, leading to the formation or growth of large splinter groups, the Baptists and Methodists.

Both of these streams of practice and thought in Anglicanism continue, and despite their grave differences, they share emphases on preaching a word, whether primarily rational or primarily biblical; both move away from church-centered authority and away from sacramentalism, favoring instead the authority and perspective individual, whether rational or emotional. Both aim to bring a certain moral discipline through the word they preach, though they preach different words for different disciplines. In short, both streams carry debris from the eighteenth century, and perhaps before, the Reformation: a kind of favor for individuals at the expense of the Church community of faith.

The Catholic Revival, or Tractarian movement, starting in earnest in England with Tracts for the Times but preceded by a less articulate High Church tradition in America, redressed the growing influence of individualism from both camps. Anglicans, said the tractarians, should return to ancient, patristic church practice and belief, in effect returning to a program favored by Hooker. The Church is “a divine society” answering to Christ, not the state—indeed, not even the Pope. It is governed here below by successors to the apostles, namely the bishops, whose succession from the foundation of the Church by Christ secures the legitimacy of their authority.

As a divine society, the Church carries on “a sacramental relationship to God expressed primarily through baptism and the eucharist,” following from its very being as the Church. In this “apostolic community” through the “grace of the Incarnation” we enter the family of God. Anglicanism, in all this close to Hooker, is thus a reformed Roman Catholicism claiming faithful catholicity as both “making universal claims” and continuing apostolic doctrine. Anglicans stepped away from both continental reformers and deists as well.

Mere Tractarianism became reactionary in the face of modernity.

Guess who is Missing
Where are the Anglican radicals in Griffiss’ story? Missing—completely missing. And not just the extreme “death of God” crowd, either: J.A.T. Robinson, John Hicks, Harvey Cox, Jack Spong all go without mention. We are missing a movement if you will: Anglican Radicalism. And that is surely a shame, inasmuch as the current quakes reverberating throughout the AC are traced, in the eyes of numerous conservatives, to just these radicals and their influence. How are we to grasp our peculiar communion as it stands without reflecting on their radicalism and its place in the Church? Radicalism has not simply been rejected, and ECUSA at least has not simply moved on with, say, Liberal Catholicism. Indeed, various conservatives might say the problem with the AC is that Liberal Catholicism cannot keep itself from falling into Radicalism. Moreover, bringing up the radicals might cause readers to consider comprehensiveness very carefully, as it implies these radicals should have a place in the Church. What sort of content is there to Anglicanism in itself if it is committed to comprehensiveness? Griffiss missed an opportunity here to bring home what being Anglican really means.

My Two-cents
It seems clear Griffiss’ sympathies are with Liberal Catholicism; so are mine. It strikes me after reading him that Liberal Catholicism is as near to an official teaching in ECUSA as we can get. The whole CTS exudes sympathy with it that is denied even to Modernism. Still, being an Episcopalian in my case, as I am a liberal catholic, means not just tolerating modernists, radicals, right-wing Anglo-catholics, and evangelicals; it means loving them with the love of Christ. Our comprehensiveness obligates me not only to Christian love, but also never to say “I do not need you.” I wonder whether we liberal catholics in ECUSA have fulfilled that obligation; indeed, in recent practice it may have paled, falling under the shadow of our obligation to worship God in justice.

But if we—all of us—are serious about being Anglican, and we are not allowed to do evil as a means to good, we must not merely tolerate other factions, but see them positively, and not merely as beloved but as performing vital functions in the body of Christ. But what would that mean in practice?

Consider two cases: (1) suppose first that group X insists that the practice of ordaining women is unbiblical and indeed morally wrong. Suppose also that most of the rest of ECUSA is convinced of just the opposite; moreover, for them it is a justice issue. That is, they see denying women as an injustice vitiating the worship of ECUSA in God’s eyes. Should group X be tolerated in its resistance to ordaining women? Should it be tolerated except on this issue, where it must be compelled to accept ordaining women? Should X be suppressed altogether? Comprehensiveness implies the third option is forbidden; ECUSA’s action is limited to one of the first two options. X performs a vital function at least in that the majority might be wrong about ordaining women; surely they are convinced otherwise, but even so, we should maintain epistemic humility. We cannot know for certain, and so X performs the service of keeping the issue alive so that the majority might have an occasion to learn of its error.

On the other hand, (2) group Y protests by disrupting worship so that it cannot go forward. Here, the liturgy is obstructed. Y clearly goes beyond maintaining a difference of opinion, and clearly goes beyond even asking for an opportunity to practice worship as it sees fit. Group Y ought to be suppressed altogether. Insofar as it disrupts the liturgy, it violates a condition of comprehensiveness, namely that we should come before God together in love.

So what might this tell us about being Anglican? We should maintain a constant tension among ourselves in how our congregations receive and articulate the minimal core of faith in worship: evangelicals, right wing Anglo-catholics, liberal catholics, modernists, and radicals should all be able to worship together in communion with each other. True—one must descend to particulars, and conscience should lead—hence we take our factions seriously with sincere conviction. Although one need not consciously decide on one of these styles and might hold off for “mere Christianity,” that choice if popular enough would in itself become just another style or slip into one already settled. However, our choice of style is made under the shadow of epistemic humility—we cannot now know with certainty whether our style is exclusively correct in its particulars. We are obligated not only to accept and cultivate this humility, but also to tolerate and love Anglicans from competing styles, even if they reject, as radicals seem to, our minimal core dogma.


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