Monday, February 26, 2007

Getting Serious With Siris: I

[N.B.: I have amended the nomenclature at the end, switching the numbering of salvation1 and 2 around--they were the reverse of what I had wanted. Otherwise, the post is intact.]

Siris recently issued a rather comprehensive critique of my case for blessing same-sex unions, a critique so wide-ranging that I shall reply in parts to keep others who might wish to enter the lists from having to fight through material that may not be of interest. It is a good piece of work, forcing me at several points to make concessions and clarifications where I had hoped to be able to rest content. Moreover, it seems to me to be a model of debate: focused, clear, and cogent throughout. I would love to know which early modernist with a sweet tooth for G.B. this is--there are not all that many after all, and although Siris seems to have a taste for English evangelical theology, that is not enough to tell me whether I have really found a conservative opponent.

A Couple Objections From Siris
Anyhow, here in Part-I I will reply to what I take to be the two core pieces of Siris' criticism, namely:

(A) The idea behind the argument is that it, unlike other arguments, is supposed to be "set out in the style of the Anglican right"; Bates argues that the only step at which the orthodox right can balk is (6). I don't think this is true; the most natural place for conservative Anglicans to balk is at (4). The Scriptural ground for it is Ephesians 5:21-33; but that passage says nothing about the relation members of the Church will bear in the world to come. Instead, it talks about the relation the Church itself bears now to Christ as its savior. R, as elaborated in 3, does indeed obtain between Christ and male saints; but we are nowhere told that R should be the model of marriage.

Premise (4) to which Siris refers is:
4. Here below, marriage should be modeled on R.

And "R" is used to in my premise (3) this way:
3. In the world to come, the members of the Church will bear a new real, reciprocal relation to Christ; call it R.

The second piece of core criticism from Siris, IMHO:
(B) The Church, as Body of Christ, has been made fit through His salvation to be the Bride of Christ; but the individual Christian is not the Body but a member, a cell or organ of the Body, and the relation between self and body is a far more intimate union than the relation between self and body part. For in a real and straightforward sense I am my body; my relation to my eye is not so straightforward. The reciprocity between myself and my body is so close that, while a distinction must be made that breaks identity and sometimes is very important, they can, in all situations save those that require high precision, be treated as equivalent. This is why corporate reciprocity provides a good sign or symbol of marriage. Not so with myself and my eye; and it would be utterly absurd to say that our model of marriage should be this relation between self and eye. Since the eye is part of the body, by simple synecdoche we can model the relation between self and eye on the relation between self and body; but there is a massive asymmetry in one that shows that we are, in fact, dealing with a figure of speech, however fruitful it may be, and not a close analogue.

There is of course more to Siris' rejoinder than what I have designated (A) and (B) above, but these are where the emphasis seems to fall: (A) being a contention about Scripture, and (B) being a more speculative, even philosophical, contention.

In Reply to (A)
Siris' (A) seems to make at least two important points. First, according to (A) the relevant passage, Ephesians 5:21-33, does not have to do with the eschaton at all, but rather simply with this life here below. Thus to Siris I am mistaken in taking it to apply to the union of Christ with members of the church at the eschaton. Second, according to (A) nevertheless members of the church will indeed bear a new, real, reciprocal relation to Christ at the Eschaton--call it R if you like--but marriage need not be modeled on it, or rather we are not obliged to take the eschatological R as a model. Thus, in sum according to Siris, on the one hand the passage I cite and rely on for (4) above does not refer to an eschatological situation, and although there is an eschatological situation in which the church and Christ are related according to my R in (3), presumably set out in passages other than mine from Ephesians, it is not a model for marriage.

Note well that Siris does not contest that Ephesians 5:21-33 applies to marriage here below; for instance, presumably we could agree on the wording of (C):

(C) [1]The wife should be to her husband as [2]the church is to Christ,

and that (C) is implied by the text. However, we disagree about part [2] of (C). Siris sees (C)[2] as referring to the relationship of the church here below to Christ, while I see (C)[2] as referring instead to the relationship of the church at the eschaton to Christ.

Why should you prefer my reading to that of Siris? The answer is pretty simple, I think. The church here below as it stands in relation to Christ, in spite of the fact that it is inspired here below by the Spirit, is not a fit ideal for moral emulation in marriage. The church here below is rife with immorality and imperfection, spots, rashes and grave infections: a true mixed body consisting so far as we can tell of both the saved and damned. Its union with Christ here below is a rather spotty affair--like a TV with an off and on reception, at times degenerating almost into an incoherent fuzz. To think that such a state of affairs, such a union, even with its good, Spirit-inspired intentions, is capable of functioning as an ideal is to set an alarmingly low--and rather uninspiring and unedifying--bar for marriage here below. Christ and even Paul can hardly be though to have wanted to model marriage after such a sorry mess.

But if instead you should take the church at the eschaton in its relationship of union with Christ as the standard, you have found a firm and fixed, everlasting and true ideal for marriage here below. For the church at the eschaton united with Christ is saved in ultimate finality--it is perfect, spotless, whole and immutable with respect to its being joined with Christ. The church at the eschaton can serve the function of ideal for marriage here below without ambiguity. At least prima facie, there is a case for reading (C)[2] eschatologically rather than mundanely. Thus, I maintain my initial reading of Ephesians 5: as if refers to marriage here below and offers a model for our emulation, it must say something about the relationship to the church and Christ at the eschaton. So much for (A): Siris' second point in (A) is otiose if my reading of Ephesians 5 stands.

In Reply to (B)
Siris' main idea in (B) seems to be that a member of the church is rather like an eye in a living, human body. Just as the eye is incapable of entering into contracts--signing for a house or car, say--apart from the body as a whole, so the individual member is incapable of entering into an eschatological union with Christ. The church as a whole, not the individual believer, is Christ's proper partner in that union.

Siris might seem to have to make something like this point, as we saw in considering (A) above that Siris admits there is a church/Christ union at the end of all things, though to Siris it is not referred to in Ephesians 5:21-33 and is not a model for marriage. If the church as a whole is Christ's partner at the end, then the partner-relation is not suited for marriage, as no individual human here below is corporate in the way the church is. That, at any rate, is the best I can do in making sense of Siris in (B).

Here I must make a concession to Siris, though not I should say a telling one--when God saves, it seems that God saves a people rather than merely a person. Whatever the power of God taken absolutely, Scripture witnesses God's clear preference and intention for saving communities, groups--Israel and the nations, the church and "all things". There is something friendly to communitarianism here which I do not wish to deny or denigrate. But the fact the Father is only willing to save the church as a community will not avail Siris.

Note that "community" is ambiguous between being taken distributively and collectively. The union with the church at the end of all things is exclusively either

(i) a union between Christ and each of the members of the church,
(ii) a union between Christ and the church, but not between Christ and any member of the church,
or else
(iii) a union between Christ and the church, and between Christ and each member of the church.

Version (i) reads the union purely distributively; version (ii) reads the union purely collectively; version (iii) mixes both senses. On versions (i) or (iii) my argument can be made to go through, inasmuch as there will be an eschatological relation between Christ and each member of the church that is suitable for serving as a model of marriage here below. Siris needs the relation to be (ii), it seems.

Even if (ii) holds, it is still not clear pace Siris that the relation between the chruch as a whole and Christ at the end must fail to serve as a model for marriage here below. In fact, the notion that there is some obstacle here seems rather forced. There is hardly, after all, anything inconsistent or absurd with a father modelling the relationship he has with his son after the relationship a coach has with his team. The plurality of the team's members need not be reproduced in the relatum of the coaching relation. Just so, the plurality of the church's members need not be reproduced in the wife in her relation to her husband for that relation to be modeled after that of the church to Christ. Or, to take another example, a husband may take it upon himself to model his behavior toward his wife on that of a dictator toward his citizens, and in spite of the fact that his wife is one rather than many, he may--sadly--succeed.

At any rate, I take it that (ii) is in fact false: that at the eschaton Christ does enter into a real, reciprocal relation with each individual believer. Humans as members in the church are rather unlike eyes in the human body. The Pauline analogy between the place of the individual in the church and the place of the organ in the body breaks down at a certain point--as we should expect from the very nature of analogy; Siris simply presses it too far. For it is clear that God does enter into relations here below with individual members ofthe church as individuals: in Holy Baptism, in forgiving our sins, in being present to us in the Holy Eucharist. More to the point, the salvation Christ brings to the church is nothing if not the salvation of each member of the church. We may distinnguish senses of salvation accordingly:

salvation1 offered by Christ to the church

salvation2 offered by Christ to each member of the church;

my argument acknowledges that there is no salvation2 without salvation1, as I only speak of "members of the church", thereby presupposing a membership relation. I do not mean to contemplate salvation outside the church here below. But I wish to insist as well, apparently against Siris, that there is no salvation1 without salvation2; in effect, we should say there is salvation1 just in case there is salvation2.

But by relation R in my argument I mean the same relation as the one referred to as "salvation2"; granting salvation2 is enough for my purposes.


At 9:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

He posted a response.

At 2:27 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

Looks like it's on.


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