Tuesday, December 27, 2005

An Interesting Graphic from rejesus.co.uk

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Examining "Claiming our Anglican Identity," Part III

I ended Pt. II with this:
Scriptural clarity appears not to the scholar as individual with a neutral standpoint, but only from within the view of a committed community. That's a clever move in the right direction, but it fails. Homework assignment: why so?
Now I have to deliver--what is the answer? What is wrong with the exegesis of Claiming?

I. A brief bit on Anglican authority
We should begin making our case--whether for or against blessing gay unions--from Scripture, as even that wonderful wax nose, the Windsor Report, suggests. Anglicans have claimed for Scripture primarily, and secondarily for tradition and reason, the authority others claim for a magisterium of some sort, or a universal primate, or councils of primates. In truth, I believe Scripture, tradition, and reason in the relevant senses interpenetrate--to isolate reason from Scripture, (or Scripture from reason), for instance, would be to invalidate its authority. That is not to say the Anglican three or four-leggesd stool should be reconceived as a block.

Rather, for instance, when we do natural theology (starting from reason), our reasoning should be informed by Faith. Informed by Faith how? We need not start reasoning from premises inimical to the Faith, adopting premises that rule out miracles, say, or that conceive of the universe as closed under merely physical causation. When faced with a choice between premises that are inimical to the Faith and those which are not, we should choose the latter. That is not to say we should bring the Faith explicitly in as a reason as a part of our natural theology; natural theology has to start somewhere, whether for the faithful or the faithless, and a starting point consistent with Faith in natural theology is as legitimate as one inconsistent with Faith. To put the point differently, there is no use pretending reason alone can provide a neutral starting point for thinking about God, but that fact does not invalidate natural theology, or remove its necessity for us here below.

Likewise, when we start from Scripture, our readings should be informed by reason: not a reason sealed off from the Faith, or a reason with starting points inimical to the Faith, but a reason that takes up experience and scientific endeavor while holding to premises consistent with the Faith. For instance, we should read Genesis with the principle "Evolution is probably true" in mind, and our interpretation of Genesis should seek consistency with what we know by reason. Of course, behind that principle is a tacit, prior judgement "Evolution is consistent with the Faith" insofar as the reason which recognizes evolution here is one already informed by Faith--no matter, not a real problem. We are always already locked into a web, or constellation--or circle--of epistemic commitments, whether faithful or faithless. The relevant question should be: Will our circle take account of the Faith or not? And there is no reason (pardon me) why it should not.

II. Application to Claiming our Anglican Identity
And so, dear lectores, be not surprised when I call on your Scripture reading to be informed by reason. In particular, I presume on the basis of reason-informed-by-the-Faith that meaning is not merely in the head. What a proposition P means is not simply a matter of what is present to an individual consciousness. Nota bene, that is not to say P lacks definite meaning, or that we must remain in ignorance of P's meaning. Whatever P means is a matter not only of its standing in a relationship with a community but also with the world. P's meaning depends in part on its relationship to a world external to the narrative or canon of any community. Here, crucially, I part company with narrative theology et al which informs so much right wing Anglican thought, including the thought behind Claiming. Thus, for instance, what Genesis means may be tied up with whether evolution is true, evolution involving something external to the mere narrative in which Genesis was, for a very long time, caught up. We should not be surprised then to learn that what Genesis means exceeded the conscious grasp of its human author(s), inasmuch as they did not know whether evotion was true, or probably true--they most likely had no such concept.

A moments reflection reveals how all this might apply to blessing gay unions. Here is one application, for instance (you can come up with others, no doubt):

We do not know whether being gay is simply natural or even has a natural component--for all we know it does, but the scientific data neither rules it in nor rules it out. I am taking "natural" crudely as meaning something like being biologically based. A rationally informed reading of Scripture takes this into account. Thus, when we read Romans 1:26-7, our reading should be made with the principle "Homosexuality could be a natural condition." That will affect the meaning of the passage, as we will not read it in such a way as to make homosexuality necessarily unnatural. Our reading, on pains of consistency with reason, will make room for the possibility of homosexuality being a natural condition, one intended by God for human beings.

Suppose one objects: Paul could in some possible world, say, point to this and that and say Whatever it ultimately means to say that they are male (or female), they are male (or female) and may not marry. What does it matter that what he means exceeds what he is conscious of, so long as he refers? Sure, soncede that we should not presume that what consciously came to mind for those who read it in the past exhausts the significant meaning it actually has. More: it will remain unsettled or open, inasmuch as its meaning depends on data that we cannot rationally close off. We have to live with that open texture--will that compel us to change our understanding of Paul's proscriptions?

Well, to stick with the line of reasoning I used in the italicized paragraph above, our understanding of "female" is not merely Paul's, but more besides, including scientific information of which he was completely ignorant. If there are, say we discover, females naturally gay, or to be more precise, biologically disposed to being gay, that would be part of an understanding of "female" Paul did not have. Yet, if we discovered such a fact, that would affect the permissibility of blessing lesbian unions. Thus, if we discover "female" means certain things, then the permissibility of blessing lesbian unions, or even performing lesbian marriages, comes into play.
Hence, we could distinguish Paul saying, for example "Whatever 'female' ultimately means, no female unions may be blessed" from "Whatever 'female' ultimately means, no heterosexual female unions may be blessed"--the latter being considerably weaker, leaving room for blessing gay female unions.

Regardless of whether a scientific consensus emerges around there being a biological basis for homosexuality, the mere possibility of such a basis is beyond Paul's knowing. Indeed, science being incapable of delivering apodictic utterances on there being--or there not being--such a basis, our theology should adjust to reality accordingly. We should not compel readers of Paul to adopt readings of him that court inconsistency. To rule out the possibility of a biological basis a priori (reason and Scripture interpenetrating, I suspect many on the right will be so tempted) is to cut off contact with reality on this question. Surely that is too high a price to demand for a tendentious rendition of orthodoxy.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Examining "Claiming Our Anglican Identity," Pt. II (Revised a Tad Away from Mere Technicalities)

I wish to move slowly through Claiming; so much is awry with it, one hopes never to see its like again. There are better ways to make a case.

For instance, Claiming makes much of the claim that ECUSA and the ACC have acted against a universal consensus in permitting the blessing of gay unions. Yet, on this question of blessing gay unions, where a province and diocese of the AC have already acted from reasoned dissent, it seems merely analytic that consensus on the question has fallen apart; one can only claim consensus by excluding the dissenters and ignoring the possibility that others within the AC could join them in the future.

But it is a simple matter of integrity to admit that an ancient consensus has failed; if it is to be restored, it will need a defense and someone will have to make a case on its behalf. Thus, appeals like that to the "common wisdom of mankind" (12) or to an "Anglicanism" that "for its part has voiced its universal commitment" seem viciously stupid from our authors--there is no such community of wisdom in reality; that is why a case must be made today, now. To go through with making such appeals argues either a lack of integrity (making them while knowing better) or a shocking neglect of education (not seeing anything to worry about); either way the presence of such appeals raises urgent questions about whether constructive discourse on the question can take place. E.g. do our "partners" in dialogue have any commitment to discovering a Truth that would call their attachments into question, that would call them to repent? Perhaps what we need first is not dialogue, but a way to come to the moral conditions necessary for dialogue.

I. Our well-meaning authors: Archbishops, Canons, and Priests
Our well-meaning authors claim The Episcopal Church U.S.A. has taken official actions that contradict Holy Scripture.... (1); this is the most significant claim in their principal indictment of ECUSA on p. 1. Their term, "contradict," is very strong--it implies ECUSA's actions are logically inconsistent with Scripture. There is, they imply, no way to render the two mutually compatible. If the truth of their claim can be reasonably doubted, or even called into question, the rest of their indictment will fall in due course.

IA: Reasonable Doubt via Inconsistency
What would "reasonable doubt" look like? Ideally, suppose we have an interpretation of Scripture, X, that our authors agree with, or are committed to, and ECUSA's actions are compatible with X. Such an ideal case would be "fatal" to their argument--we would have shown that their argument is itself inconsistent, and they would be obliged to restate it de novo. Personally, I think they would in fact agree to premises that--unknown to them--imply the permissibility of gay marriage. In effect, I think that their case is incoherent:

1. Christ was resurrected in the flesh, and will exist in the world to come.
2. In the world to come, members of the Church will be resurrected, male and female, in the flesh.
3. In the world to come, the members of the Church will bear a new real, reciprocal relation to Christ; call it R.
4. Here below, marriage should be modeled on R.
5. R obtains between males: for instance, Christ and each blessed male.

Suppose the authors were to somehow succeed in exonerating their consistency; there remains a problem. Note that my premise set, (1)-(5) above--call it S1, requires refutation, provided my case is prima facie coherent. Thus, they cannot rightly claim to know the truth of the matter without qualification; there remains for them argumentative work.

Furthermore, who is to say there is no second such premise set, Y, yet to be discovered? Surely given the actual X, extrapolation to Y is reasonable, even trivial.

Hence, I will lay my X-type reading aside, with the warning that the possibility--nay the actuality--of such readings should have been sufficient to render the authors more circumspect about the cogency their claims, and especially about what they were prepared to do--foment schism--in the name of those claims. Their evident choice to proceed without epistemic humility carries manifest consequences of the utmost gravity.

IB: reasonable Doubt via Conflict Over Interpretation
Oh well; let us take another case, one that we might well find come to pass. Suppose there is a reading of Scripture, call it "Z", which is correct--so far as the scholarly community knows, and ECUSA's actions are compatible with Z.

Even the possession of an Z-type reading would cause me to look critically at our authors' claim to contradiction--if ECUSA has an Z-type reading, our authors should take pains to overturn it. The very existence of an Z-type reading would make their claim of contradiction at least temporarily suspect--at least until they had finished overturning it.

Now note, the burden of proof is rather high for our authors; I take it as trivial that there are a variety of Z-type readings around (Countryman, Furnish, Lance, Siker, Bailey, Helminiak, and there are others).

But you will look in vain throughout Claiming for scholarly engagement with these Z-type readings. Our authors claim Scripture teaches that the only divinely appropriate context for sexual relations is in the marriage between a man and a woman.... without qualification (2). And so, homosexual acts...contradict God's will for human creation (2).

They do not here, and do not anywhere else, explicitly acknowledge that there is actual legitimate difference of opinion over what Scripture teaches here. In Section III, where our authors explain how ECUSA justified its actions, they acknowledge no X or Z-type readings, saying "[m]ost" readings of Scripture that differ from theirs are vague and carefully ignore the unified and integrated witness of Scripture of the matter of marriage, chastity, and sexuality.
"Most"? You mean, good authors, that there is at least one differing reading that is precise and doesn't ignore the unified witness of Scripture? Well, why aren't we talking about that reading or readings? Who knows. They proceed by arguing against what by their own admission (sc. "Most"!) are mere strawmen, as if that accomplishes something significant. Quite to the contrary, I contend it establishes an unwillingness to make a case, a disappointing intellectual enervation. And no wonder--to acknowledge coherent opposition would be to acknowledge that the question is live, unsettled, and that perhaps--just maybe--our good authors are reasonably thought wrong.

II. Table slamming Scripture citations
Go and see how our good authors do biblical theology when it really counts; read pages 3-6. Hilarious, not. Remember the high standing of those resposible for this scribbling. They are still out there in power, still "making contributions." I will stick for the moment to calling attention to the appearance of the myth of plain meaning in their reading of Scripture. I note this for those who thought such luminaries in the Anglican right as Radner and Turner were above such foolery--my friends, my brothers and sisters in Christ, take it and read, read it and weep:

The clear Scriptural teaching on this topic is generally accepted by most biblical scholars.... (5)

*The clarity of the Scriptural witness is always underlined, but not as existing in a vacuum of individual acts of interpretation. (6)

Rather Scripture's clear meaning is given through the accountability of interpretation to that teaching that is 'delivered' apostolically. (6)

To hear Scripture's plain meaning requires.... (7) [And then we are treated to my next topic, a genuine horror, a list of necessary and sufficient conditions for establishing the plain meaning of Scripture.]

The quote marked "*" insinuates something very important--our authors see themselves as operating outside modern individualism, variously attributed--wrongly I believe--to Descartes, insofar as they interpret Scripture from within the canon or the narrative of the Church community. Scriptural clarity appears not to the scholar as individual with a neutral standpoint, but only from within the view of a committed community. That's a clever move in the right direction, but it fails. Homework assignment: why so?

Monday, December 12, 2005

On the Episcopal Catechism, Pt. II

I. Readings from the Catechism
How does the Catechism picture our predicament, the human condition? The sections on Human Nature and Sin fill in some detail (putting sections I shall refer to in boldface):

Human Nature
Q. What are we by nature?
A. We are part of God’s creation, made in the image of
Q. What does it mean to be created in the image of God?
A. It means that we are free to make choices
: to love, to
create, to reason, and to live in harmony with creation
and with God.
Q. Why then do we live apart from God and out of
harmony with creation
A. From the beginning, human beings have misused their
freedom and made wrong choices.
Q. Why do we not use our freedom as we should?
A. Because we rebel against God, and we put ourselves in
the place of God.

Q. What help is there for us?
A. Our help is in God.
Q. How did God first help us?
A. God first helped us by revealing himself and his will,
through nature and history, through many seers and saints,

and especially through the prophets of Israel.

Sin and Redemption
Q. What is sin?
A. Sin is the seeking of our own will instead of the will of
God, thus distorting our relationship
with God, with other
people, and with all creation.
Q. How does sin have power over us?
A. Sin has power over us because we lose our liberty when
our relationship with God is distorted
Q. What is redemption?
A. Redemption is the act of God which sets us free from the
power of evil, sin, and death
Q. How did God prepare us for redemption?
A. God sent the prophets to call us back to himself, to
show us our need for redemption, and to announce the
coming of the Messiah.
Q. What is meant by the Messiah?
A. The Messiah is one sent by God to free us from the
power of sin, so that with the help of God we may live in
with God, within ourselves, with our neighbors,
and with all creation.
Q. Who do we believe is the Messiah?
A. The Messiah, or Christ, is Jesus of Nazareth, the only
Son of God

We are creatures created in God's image, in that "we are free to make choices," including the choice about whether to misuse our freedom by rebelling against God. The basic mark of being human is being free, or better, being condemned to choose: misuse your freedom or not--you simply must choose. There is no avoiding this choice for any of us about how we shall use our freedom.

But, alas, we are not reading the Catechism from a neutral standpoint, from which merely proper use of our freedom is still open to us. The Catechism presumes that we already "live apart from God and out of harmony with creation." That basic datum--we are each caught in a cacophony of disharmonious relationships--seems too obvious to belabor. Still, why? Why do we find ourselves in such a state?

"From the beginning human beings have misused their freedom" because "we rebel against God and we put ourselves in the place of God." And there is our fundamental problem: a type of psychological egoism; we are self-centered, choosing to do our own will for ourselves rather than God's will for ourselves. The Catechism does not mention "original sin;" it seems neutral on whether there is such an item. But it clearly implies we already find ourselves having misused our freedom while in the grips of egoism.

As we seek "our own will instead of the will of God" we sin. We will inevitably introduce disharmony into our relationships with God and the world, but we also give sin power over us. For in misusing our freedom by sinning, "we lose our liberty...." Sin disfigures our humanity, what is distinctive of our being human, that by which we are in the image of God: our freedom. Having sinned, we have dug a whole for ourselves that we cannot get ourselves out of--we are simply in too deep. Thus, we may address the evil in our lives in various ways, but we will be unable to simply eliminate the disharmony that we introduced; evil will always be there in some form.

Perhaps I can say more without departing too far from the letter. We are under sin's power having lost our liberty in that we are no longer free to simply do good once we have sinned. Maybe this means that whatever we do, our actions will continue to invite evil into our relationships and the world. For instance, one may quite rightly remedy a violent marriage with divorce, bu the choice of that remedy, however correct, introduces another disharmony and another set of problems to deal with. Such situations are endemic to our lives here below. Clearly, we need help.

"Our help is in God." We need to be redeemed, set free "from the power of evil, sin, and death" but cannot simply set ourselves free; we depend on an act of an entirely different sort, an act of God. First God must "show us our need for redemption"--we are so pathetic in our condition, under sin's power, that we do not even recognize our need to be set free. Perhaps we take our condition to be natural or necessary, and have no hope of being set free.

To break the grip of our ignorance, God reveals himself--not only in the Bible, but more broadly "through nature and history;" God's work to redeem us is universal in scope, going beyond even the confines of Scripture. He reveals a person--himself--primarily; second, he reveals his will. The content of his will is secondary, I infer, from the revelation of his person.

One part of divine will revealed by God to us: our redemption will be accomplished by a person, the Messiah, Jesus. God's help does not come merely through acts of raw power and mighty fiat. He prefers to act through personal relationships--we are to receive revelation concerning God and the Messiah, and this revelation of divine personhood is essential to the help God wishes to give.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Examining "Claiming Our Anglican Identity" Pt. I

At ACI's site you may find a document, commended by the Primates to the AC, namely Claiming our Anglican Identity, that makes "the" case against ECUSA for certain acts of its GC2003. So far as I can tell, completing its argument requires reference to another short work you may find over at ACI, True Union in the Body. I presume these works constitute the core of the Anglican right-wing argument against blessing gay unions and ordaining a sexually active homosexual as bishop. As such, they demand close examination as we near GC2006.

I find neither of these documents cogent. What is lacking most of all? Sustained engagement with the arguments of the opposition; it is as if argument were a lost art. Although True Union is at least thoughtful and rather well-written, points in Claiming our Anglican Identity are made as if they settle the dispute, as if nothing effective or at least prima facie cogent could be said in response. That is, the authors show little evident awareness in their text that for all the points they make against ECUSA, they have not settled the issues. The points made just are not sufficiently strong--despite the fact that the conviction behind the points made is evidently very strong indeed. Thus, despite the authors' probable intention to produce a final statement of sorts, the debate goes on.

In contrast, both the Windsor Report and ECUSA's To Set our Hope on Christ openly acknowledge that debate is ongoing. The Windsor Report clearly declines to decide for or against the theology behind the actions at GC2003--for all the Eames Commission has said, ECUSA maight be absolutely right to bless gay unions and ordain VG Robinson; the Windsor Report maintains neutrality on the theological issues in dispute. Likewise, To Set our Hope frames itself as merely a contribution to an ongoing debate explaining why ECUSA did what it did at GC2003; both ECUSA and the Eames Commission maintain epistemic humility.

Claiming our Anglican Identity does not maintain epistemic humility. Such privation is deleterious to the entire Anglican Communion. For if the right-wing does not see its thinking as part of an ongoing debate, then they do not see themselves as needing to remain in communion in order--at least--to take their place in the ongoing debate. Evidently, Claiming argues withion a tacit framework insinuating we should as a communion move on from debate, close the debate down, and take action. Witness the "outed" GSA letter to WIlliams, with its talk of sawing off branches.

Part of our ongoing travail as a communion has to do with the different attitudes disputing parties take to the arguments they have given. But the Windsor Report, calling explicitly for ongoing debate and dialogue, implies the framework within which Claiming was written is inappropriate--I go further, and say "hostile to the very Spirit of communion in Christ." I am reminded of Cleon's speech to the Athenians against Diodotus.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Defending Open Communion in ECUSA

A recent debate at Pontifications over the permissibility of open communion degenerated into a brawl--a brawl in which I did not participate--over Anglican sacraments, leading to the thread's closure before the debate ran its course. As the topic of open communion is bound to heat up again, I wanted to finish my line of reasoning in favor of open communion here.

I. Opening Arguments
Here I reproduce what I said in favor of open communion in italics,with minor editorial changes, and links to the whole comment.

Were the Apostles baptized in the name of the Trinity with the Holy Spirit..before they participated in the Eucharist at the Last Supper? If they were unbaptized, then open communion is permissible–we would be following the example of Christ and his Apostles.

I did not want to insinuate that Baptism has no role to play in Christian life, or even that it is optional; it is obligatory. Baptism, furthermore, has a real effect on the recipient--it brings about an ontological change.

But communion before baptism is a bit like play acting, like a kid putting on daddy’s tie–it lacks the full meaning, the full being, of the informed act of communion, preceded by baptism.... At some point the kid should grow up and get a tie of his own–just so, the unbaptized partaker in communion is obliged to grow into the full stature of Christ.

Baptism, Duns Scotus would say, effects a real ontological change in the recipient....But Scotus is right; as Westerhoff would put it (tho not with refernce to Duns), we are branded as God’s own livestock: we are to be his sheep.

(C1) replies to the objection that the Apostles were baptized--by John. Even if that were true, it would be insufficient. (C2) replies to another objection, made from the work of the liturgical scholar Dix, who believed the Eucharist performed by Jesus before his crucifixion was not genuine.

Of course, the baptism of John the Baptist isn’t Christian baptism; the Gospels seem quite clear on drawing a distinction between what John the Baptist did and what Jesus ushered in, and the difference in the baptismal ministries of the two is one in kind, even if there remains an analogy between them. Thus, there is a real distinction between the two despite their analogical similarity; John the Baptist’s rite should not be conflated with the sacramental rite of Baptism in the name of the Trinity.

More to the point is Dix saying the Last Supper was not at all a Eucharist, but something less, rather like a dress-rehearsal is not at all a performance of the play, but something less. Applause to IRNS for bringing up the Dix reference.
But note: it could of course be both an instructed Eucharist and a real Eucharist–the two are not mutually exclusive. Moreover, even a dress rehearsal of a play is still a performance of the play–the two are not mutually exclusive.
To make the point you want to make, IRNS, it seems you must say something truly outrageous–namely that the dress rehearsal was not a real performance, and that the intructed Eucharist was not a real one. That is, when Christ said “Do this” his “this” did not refer to what he was doing, that when he said “this is my body” it was not really his body, etc–Christ’s discourse becomes non-cognitive, merely symbolic without a real reference in the world and that seems to be consistent with conclusions most uncatholic, that is, at odds with real presence even in its lightweight “receptionist” classical/Cranmer Anglican form.
Perhaps you or Dix think Christ’s “this” refers not to the action he actually performed as an instance of a type that could be repeated, but to a type apart from anything that he really performed? An abstraction merely conceptual, or an abstraction with a real foundation on the side of the thing? A Platonic Form perhaps? Then what, IRNS? How would Dix explain it? Please elaborate.

This is a reply to ElliotB, who distinguished the Eucharist's requirements before and after the Resurrection. I reply any such change cannot be essential to or even necessary to the rite, but could only be accidental.

People here...might seem to have made a point for a valid Eucharist...requiring Baptism, a point that seems nearly demonstrably false. Whatever distinction you wish to make between before and after the Resurrection, if the Eucharist were ever, before or after, validly celebrated among the unbaptized, then it is simply false to say that celebrating the Eucharist requires Baptism. At most you could only say something like “celebrating the Eucharist after the Resurrection requires Baptism.”
But if the Eucharist were celebrated before the Resurrection without Baptism, and the Eucharist before and after the Resurrection is the same type of rite, how could it have acquired this requirement? In acquiring a new requirement it would no longer remain the same rite–what you celebrate after the Resurrection would not be what Christ instituted. But surely that is absurd. At most, then, the new requirement would have to be accidental to the rite–it could neither be essential nor proper without changing the neture of the rite itself. But then, if it is really merely accidental, the Eucharist remains a valid Eucharist even if celebrated by the unbaptized.

Finally, Aquinas believes Baptism is not needed for salvation; it is necessary only in teh sense it is the most fitting means to salvation for us.

Remember that his great Summa is only for beginners. Here, we need something a little more sophisticated. It’s risky, but take in some Latin from Aquinas’ commentary on the Sentences (Super Sent., lib. 4 d. 1 q. 1 a. 2 qc. 1 co):“Respondeo dicendum, ad primam quaestionem, quod sacramenta non erant necessaria necessitate absoluta, sicut necessarium est Deum esse, cum ex sola divina bonitate instituta sint, sed de necessitate quae est ex suppositione finis;….” The first question to which he refers is “Utrum sacramenta fuerint necessaria post hominis lapsum.” You see that baptism, for Aquinas, is not absolutely necessary, but carries only hypothetical necessity: Given a purpose X, Y is required.

We want to know more about the sense of “required”–turn to the next sentence: “non ita tamen quod sine his Deus hominem sanare non posset, quia sacramentis virtutem suam non alligavit, ut in littera dicitur (sicut cibus necessarius est ad vitam humanam), sed quia per sacramenta magis congrue fit hominis reparatio; sicut equus dicitur necessarius ad iter, quia in equo facilius homo vadit.” That is a very weak sense of necessity or “required” indeed. Note especially “quia sacramentis virtutem suam non alligavit.” The issue here is more one of what is more fitting for man, “sed quia per sacramenta magis congrue fit hominis reparatio.” The necessity of Baptism does not tie God’s hands, but is more of something like “Why drive a Pinto when you can go Mercedes?..."

II. ElliotB's reply in favor of Closed Communion
ElliotB was not persuaded by my comments, (A)-(E), and ventured a spirited reply. I reproduce it, with a link to the complete original, below:

My point is that in Christ’s immediately incarnate presence, the Apostles progressively enjoyed all the privileges and powers of His nascent Church; and this is in a categorically different way than any subsequent Christians can experience. A sacrament is meant to signify and realize its spiritual referent. Baptism realizes ingrafting into Christ for those of us unable to be immediately ingrafted into His ekklesia, as His disciples were, by sheer fact of His BEING PRESENT AMONG THEM. Baptism may be a different rite from the Apostles’ ingrafting, but it is the SAME effect. The reason they are salvifically continuous, although phenomenologically discontinuous is the same reason ideal is, so to speak, “consubstantially distinct” from its actualization. Baptism is a requirement for post-apostolic communion just because union with/in Christ was the requirement for communion for the Apostles themselves. The issue is not the form in which baptismal ingrafting occurred; the issue is whether those receiving met the requirements proper to their own mode of redemption. The requirement of baptism does not make a new rite just because Baptism IS the only way we today can attain the same union necessary for the Apostles. The Eucharist-via-Baptism just is what Christ celebrated – His total self-giving to His faithful – with the Apostles, albeit via Baptism-sine-ablution.
Are you trying to tell me they could receive if they were NOT united, in some real way (as I indicated was the case in John 15), with Christ the paschal lamb? Nonsense.

The Apostles were baptized into Christ by the immediate, non-, or should I say super-sacramental, action of Christ Himself; and only on these grounds could they and did they commune. Now, however, for us who lack the immediate, super-sacramental action Christ, we MUST abide by the pattern laid down in and “over” the Apostles: no communion without Christological union. Recall that the Church is built on the foundation of the Apostles. Hence, we are not ingrafted into Christ on the same level as they were; we are ingrafted, as it were, into their own ingrafted unity with Christ. Jesus sent the Apostles to do for others what He had done for them. Lacking his immediate action, however, Christ had them “resort” to the sacraments to accomplish sacramentally what He did for them immediately. Say what you will about this bifurcation “altering” the Passover feast – it just IS the biblical truth. The Apostles, as foundation stones, are in a league of their own.

My basic line in the sand is this: If you say Baptism was not required for Eucharistic Communion, I wonder what it IS, in your eyes, required for. I mean, if the Apostles were allowed to the table without baptism AND SUBSEQUENTLY NEVER WERE BAPTIZED, I see no way for you to say they were ingrafted into Christ. However, if you do say they were ingrafted without the formal, ritualized action of baptism, then you just concede my point: they had the effects and status of baptism even without Baptism; so they approached and received the Eucharist in a categorically distinct way.

Besides, I also see no place in the Gospels where Jesus manually ordains the Apostles with the sacrament of Orders nor, consequently, with that of Penance. The Apostles had infused supra-sacramentally what we can only receive sacramentally. Would you presume to say the post-Ascension requirement of ordained ministers “alters” the pre-Ascension rite of commissioning which Christ enacted on the Apostles?

Finally, I think you are putting way too much weight on this one node of sacramental revelation and simply ignoring the bulk of the NT kerygma that teaches closed communion.
1) Colossians 2 equates baptism with circumcision; insofar as the latter was the bedrock requirement of being-among the People of God, so too is baptism requisite. No circumcision, no access to the altar; no baptism, no access to the Altar.
2) Romans 6 equates baptism with our death into Christ; Paul, in turn, hinges our rebirth into His life with that death. No baptism, no resurrection. Since, then, the Eucharist is the consummate reception of that “indestructible life” (Heb 6?), thus Baptism is required for that reception of Life.
3) John 6 makes it painfully clear not all could receive the Bread from Heaven – only those united to Christ by faith, which is but the formal core of the sacrament of Baptism. No faith, no Bread from Heaven; no Sacrament of Faith (baptism), no Bread from Heaven.
4) Consider 1 Cor 5, 6 and 11: 5:9....

Do you mean to tell me receiving the Lord without first receiving full remission of sins by Baptism is not to be yoked unequally? is not to eat with the wicked? is not to blend the harlot-world with the Bride of Christ? is not to eat and drink in “an unworthy manner”? The baptismal “threshold” is axiomatic to the NT witness.Your musings about the first Passover, while complex and intriguing, ultimately have no traction in either Scripture, Tradition or sacramental logic.

What does his point come to? He conceded that Baptism is not strictly necessary for receiving the Eucharist. Still, he holds that open communion is immoral and should be forbidden. Why? Receiving communion morally requires a type of unity with Christ, and Baptism is the only means left to us of attaining that unity. For instance, receiving communion requires full remission of sins, and this is only available to us through Baptism.

According to ElliotB, the immediately present incarnate Christ conveyed powers to his Apostles that subsequent Christians must go without. For by Christ's mere presence among them, they were "ingrafted" or unified with Christ. Baptism also effects the same type of unity. Thus, even without Baptism, being in Christ's presence alone sufficed for the Apostles; we, without Christ's direct presence, must make do with Baptism. He has an interesting argument going here: one to which I should like to respond.

III. A Response to ElliotB in Favor of Open Communion
The mere presence of Christ is not simply efficacious, as ElliotB suggests. Christ was present with many without their being unified or ingrafted to Christ in the relevant sense: the High Priest, Herod, and Pilate come to mind--but also Judas. It is false, on the Gospel narratives, to say the presence of Christ conveys powers. Nor was everyone present at the first Eucharist unified or ingrafted to Christ in the relevant sense, though here I am less sure: the example of Judas again. Tweaking and massaging the text might get around these concerns, but surely the appeal to Christ's mere presence as ingrafting and unifying goes too far--something more than his mere presence is needed, it seems.

But is unity or being ingrafted to Christ a genuine necessary condition of receiving communion? Whether we are unified to Christ by Christ's mere presence, as ElliotB suggests, or by Baptism, the unity in the sense of being worthy and without unrepented sin,is sure to be short lived. We will sin again, after Baptism, and may sin even in the presence of Christ. He cites I Cor. rightly--we are not permitted to receive communion in a state of sin. But Baptism alone is insufficient to satisfy that condition; hence the liturgy includes the confession and absolution of sins. Here is the crux: is that confession and absolution efficacious alone, such that the condition of I Cor. is satisfied? I say "Yes"--Baptism in addition perfects that confession and absolution, but is not necessary for it. For that reason, it is possible for the unbaptized to receive communion without fault.

In short, to follow Aquinas, who--pace ElliotB--is certainly by now part of the Christian tradition, Baptism is fitting for us without being necessary (see my point E above). Such thinking is most definitely traditional.It may be that receiving communion without Baptism will prove inefficient and even potentially harmful for the one receiving--still, Baptism normally accompanies the Eucharist without being obligatory.

Why might a parish actually adopt open communion? It seems to be a risky accomodation to modern pagans, agnostics, and others. Yet, the church cannot take a desire to participate for granted, especially in the young. Open communion is a type of hospitality to such people, a way to draw them into liturgical action, spurring a desire for more. Liturgy can be a means through which sinners are drawn to repentence; liturgy is a means through which the Spirit can move to change lives. A church like ECUSA lives through its liturgy; liturgy is our special means of communicating our relationship with God, and that communication should go out to the unbaptized, even. I suppose ideally a parish could accomplish such liturgical evangelization by means of, say, Morning and Evening Prayer--but for most ECUSA parishes, the Eucharist not
the Offices is the living, beating heart of worship.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

On the Episcopal Catechism, Pt. 1

Anyone exploring the Christian teaching of ECUSA should take a careful look at its 1979 BCP Catechism—for here ECUSA explicitly claims to have presented an “outline for instruction” that comments on the creeds. What propositions does ECUSA take to follow from confession or recitation of the creeds? The Catechism lays them out—without claiming to have exhausted their meaning. ECUSA claims the Catechism “is not meant to be a complete statement of belief and practice;” nevertheless, it is a reliable “point of departure.” Some conservatives in ECUSA, writing of “Nicene Christianity” or some such thing, would do well to measure their understanding of the creeds against that implicit in the Catechism. Are there salient differences? Incompatibilities? How great is the distance?

Indeed, this commentary on the creeds comments on their nature—they are “statements of our basic beliefs about God.” Trading in “beliefs,” the creeds are involved in expressing our relationship with God in propositional terms, and what’s more, in making these propositional beliefs explicit, in actually stating them. These beliefs which might have remained merely implicit in our worship practice having been brought to light, they are made public for the congregation and even beyond. This is not trivial, as once made public, they are open to being explicitly critiqued and refined.

Apparently, the catechism accepts that our beliefs about God may be basic or non-basic; the creeds are not to dabble in clarifying or rendering explicit our non-basic beliefs about God, but only those which are foundational, primitive. Creeds should not push into non-basic territory, say (to be obvious), deciding between Scotus and Aquinas on the nature of the Persons of the Trinity, or deciding between Molina and Banez on the nature of divine foreknowledge. Thus, the Creeds—and the Catechism—do not aim to eliminate indefiniteness from Christian belief. There is a case to be made here that we must, as Christians, simply live with a certain measure of doctrinal vagueness beyond the reach of any proper creedal orthodoxy.

Creeds that are used in worship—the Apostles’ and Nicene—are given special status over those which make a proclamation about doctrine but are not used in worship—the Athanasian. The Apostles’ Creed is used in daily prayer, and in Baptism; it is part of a covenant made between Christians and God in the baptismal rite. Its duly noted antiquity gives it a priority among the elements of Christian tradition: the very identity of Christians is and has been constituted through liturgical use of the creed. It does not just state the beliefs of already formed Christians, but helps to form them as persons. The same can be said of the Nicene Creed; the Catechism adds that the Nicene Creed is used at the Eucharist, and “is the creed of the universal church.”

Universality or catholicity, according to the creeds and the Catechism, is a mark of the Christian Church; the Nicene Creed as well as, I venture to say, the Apostles’ Creed give the content of the Church’s universality. There may be more to the universality of the Church than this, but “the whole Faith” which the Church is obliged to teach everywhere and always includes at least the content of these creeds. Note, on pain of consistency, “the whole Faith” need not settle every issue disputed among Christians. Creeds should not and need not push so far: catholicity needs to leave room for indefiniteness in Christian belief. By implication, it need not be any part of the catholic Church’s mission in teaching the whole Faith to settle all doctrinal disputes between Christians.

“The Creeds” section of the Catechism ends with a note on the Trinity; thereby the Catechism insinuates the creeds teach primarily the Trinity and the Incarnation. It is as if the reflective clarification of our worship in propositional terms leads us to hash out these doctrines, of all things. As if disputes and confusions in our worship life are helped by clarity about them; or better: our reflective clarification of what we need to clarify of the Faith leads us to these doctrines. Maybe teaching that is disputed, but does not touch these doctrines, may be left indefinite.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Is epistemic humility useful?

Does it really get us anywhere? Clearly, we cannot employ EH about every proposition of the faith; some propositions are genuinely constitutive of any catholic, apostolic Christian community with Christ as its head:

(1) Jesus is lord and savior.
(2) Jesus was resurrected.

Giving up (1) puts a community beyond the catholic pale; I would argue denying (2) does so as well.

But consider (3):

A priest may wear vestments.

Back in the day, (3) occasioned passionate division--but now? Do I need to argue that (3), whether true or false, is outside the core of Christian dogma? Being mistaken about (3) is a less urgent problem than being mistaken about (1) or (2). It may indeed be that Christ has decided in favor or against (3); the core of truths like (1) and (2) does not imply what Christ would say, and we have no way of knowing here below what he has decided in his current heavenly estate. Because we have no way of knowing Christ's mind on (3), and the core does not decide, we should be humble about (3). For the church has to take a stand on (3)--it has to decide in its common life whether to allow vestments. It must take stands in disputes that go
beyond its knowledge; how can it do so responsibly?

Here is one place humility is useful--a humble attitude to those stands which the church must take without knowledge seems proper; presuming infallibility or arrogating to ourselves the power of determining right and wrong when Christ already has decided seems immoral. We will have usurped God's role--hardly prudent in the the long term. By taking on humility in the face of such actions, we assume our proper position in relation to God, one where we do not pretend moral autonomy.

Not all propositions outside the core admit of such treatment, some will say:

(4)The church may bless gay unions.

They will say that even though the denial of (4) is not part of the core, we have excellent reason for thinking that in Scripture Christ has shared his mind with us on (4) in a way he has not with (3). The church neeed not go out on a limb in denying (4): in fact, humility toward the denial of (4) might seem like a vice--why qualify the denial of what Christ has so explicitly denounced?

Pace critics of humility with regard to (4)--we should not regard a denial of (4) as absolute. Long consensus around an interpretation of something outside the core, even with a consensus around the clarity of an interpretation, does not imply the interpretation is right. Admitting this seems to me a requirement of Christian realism: we do not make reality for ourselves, especially the moral reality. God does, and our yielding to his sovereignty is not optional. Thus, for instance, it is open to God to test our humility, even by decreeing X for a duration and then correcting us by decreeing the denial of X--will we yield the familiar to his will? We must remain receptive to possible correction, even in those beliefs outside the core that come to us with a long, impressive consensus among the faithful.

There is another use of epistemic humility, one brought to mind recently by a post from Tobias Haller. No creature can express the full measure of God's perfection--we are not just exceeded by a bit, but by an infinite magnitude. The variety of creation serves to show God's glory by imitating him more fully than one kind could. The variety of creation is itself of value.

Might it be that God desires not a large, mushy, grey theological uniformity in worship, but a variety? Might variety in worship be of value in itself, the very variety better showing God's glory to the world? If so, then the means to worship with variety is useful. It seems evident epistemic humility is just such a means. For EH permits divergent parties like Anglo-catholics, evangelicals and modernists to come to the same altar--for each party, by maintaining humility, maintains that the other parties are as legitimate manifestations of human worship and thanksgiving to God--a necessary condition, it seems, of actually having them worship together, being one as Christ wished.