Tuesday, May 15, 2007

On Radner and Paganism

The Rev. Radner's opinions--as a writer sympathetic to the so-called Global South faction involved in forming an Anglican covenant--merit special attention; someone powerful might take them seriously, and the Episcopal Church might even end up being asked to swear by some notion he has hatched. His recent Vocation Deferred: The Necessary Challenge of Communion is relatively mild given his missives of late, but the opening hyperbole sets a tone:

Indeed, from a practical standpoint, parties in the Communion are pressing their commitments in a way analogous to political groups and their external allies within a civil war: discussion and "agreement" has value only if one can gain a place of advantage from which later to destroy the opposition.

There is a grain of truth here, to be sure.

Anglican Communion* (the star is an unfortunate necessity, so that one is not misled by the term to beg any questions about whether the AC is really a Christian koinonia) developments have come to seem nakedly political, in the sense that parties have become factions competing for power, compelling--in a rather Hobbesian fashion one might say--a primary authority to centralize its power in order to hold the relevant community together as an even minimally functioning whole. But if we take the development of factions seriously, surely we have reason to take a dim view of the covenant writing process as primarily an expression intending to enable centralized authority seeking an adequate Christian-sounding ideological guise. The purpose? Find the right postliberal christianist babble about koinonia--gobbledygook sufficiently anaesthetic to maximize participation in a scheme of subjection to an ecclesial sovereign. To his credit Radner cues us in right away about the nature of the covenant process; much of the rest of Radner's essay consists--alas!--of christianist babble.

The misleading part of the Radner quote above is its exaggeration, i.e. an imputation of symmetry between the "Global South" and TEC/ACC factions--supposing it is fair to say these are the relevant factions. Only one faction has destruction on its agenda, to my knowledge, and that is the "Global South"; only one faction intends a realignment to, in effect, "destroy the opposition" in Radner's words. You might have thought, from Radner's rhetoric, that TEC intended to kick Nigeria out of the AC* and replace it in the AC* with a new Anglican province. Not so. You might have thought that TEC intended a change in Nigeria's polit yas a condition on TEC's continued participation in the AC*--an intention parallel to Nigeria's. Not so. To tell the truth, I see no recognition in Radner's work here of this asymmetry between the "Global South" and TEC/ACC. Yet it seems relevant to me at least inasmuch as the procedures of the AC* such as they are now, pre-covenant, have enabled and supported the development of this asymmetry, and such enabling might be taken to be an abuse of power. Such abuses might be important to keep in mind as we develop a covenant.

"Serious Reflection"
Radner characterizes TEC as adhering to a "localist" understanding of the church or church, holding "[t]his is the church: an autonomous act of faithfulness – of which there may be many, none of which impinge upon the integrity of the others":

One view, which I shall call the "localist" view, is one that the TEC's general leadership seems to be vigorously pressing at the moment. It claims that every local church fulfills the Gospel calling wherever it is and according to whoever it is, and is faithful only as it does this.

That is, of course, a straw-man. It may well be that TEC does not understand itself to be the church in a sectarian sense, such that no other denominations are parts of the one true church. The sectarian sense of "church" is one sense. And it may well be that TEC does not understand the one true church to be nonexistent, many churches with roughly equal claim to fidelity existing instead. That would involve another sense of "church", a purely fragmented sense.

These options are not exhaustive; for instance TEC could see itself as bearing the one-in-many, rather as many drops of quicksilver may slide together into a unity. TEC could bear the nature church as you and I bear the nature human. And just as the nature human intends a telos, operating in each of us as a formal cause, so many denominations--TEC, PCUSA, etc--could bear one and the same nature operating in each as a formal cause aiming at some end point.. It may well be the telos naturally intended for TEC is a unity, even an eschatological unity, with other instances of the church. In this case each instance of the church could only realize its eschatological intention by being the best individual instance of the nature church it can be, given what is causally accessible to it. What might seem local on a surface view would not be merely local at all, but would conceal an underlying identity already actual which could only be properly worked out in numerically distinct instances.

This is the sort of thing I think Radner would had to have eliminated to make his case. Otherwise, it might seem possible that the TEC/ACC faction ordaining actively gay men to the episcopate and blessing gay unions does the will of God even if they do it alone among the denominations, and what is more, in doing so they fufill their ergon--doing the good--indeed doing the very same work the RCC for instance does, and perhaps at least as well.

Radner's version of localism implies a rather tendentious nominalism about the church. Anyone familiar with Anglicanism's long tradition of realism--of moderate, Platonic, and Augustinian varieties--stretching from Hooker to the Cambridge Platonists to Coleridge and the contemporary Radical Orthodoxy movement--a tradition that derives from an even longer tradition of realism going from the Middle Ages back to the earliest church apologists and perhaps even beyond into canonical and apocryphal literature itself, might pause at Radner's tacit, presumed nominalism and count the cost. Is it even possible for us to be orthodox, given our historical position, and be nominalists? Is it even possible to say the Nicene Creed and refer to ousiai coherently while embracing nominalism? Maybe the cost is too great altogether.

More "Seriousness"
I think I have already provided a candidate answering Radner's question about why autonomy seems to always trump communion. There is no shame in contemplating the church with a dessicated notion of "church"--how can we avoid it?--the shame is in doing so from within an authorial persona presuming the dessiciated notion is sufficient. It may be that autonomy to Radner looks that way because he chooses to confuse appearance and reality. Maybe "autonomy" is a tag referring to the nature church's messy concrete realization, "messy' in the sense the nature as a formal cause interacts with other causes outside the nature itself such that its development does not look properly linear and there may be questions like Does the serve our attaining our telos? E.g one might wonder whether GC2003 is an exercise of efficient causation extrinsic to TEC's nature as church contrary to its disposition toward its telos, or GC2003 is an exercise of TEC's nature as contracted here and now realizing its disposition toward its telos--and in the latter case, what seemes like a bunch of aging liberals enacting a radical agenda autonomously would not really be so. Moreover, one might seriously wonder just what the AC* is--what is it? Does it bear the nature church in embryonic instantiation? Or is it not a church at all, but rather something of a different sort altogether? Can it--is it even possible--for the AC* to instantiate Christian koinonia? Is it any more possible than a human being having been a block of wood?

Perhaps indeed koinonia cannot exist at the level of the AC* in a sense univocal with its existence in churches. Applying koinonia--pace Radner--at the level of the AC* is a category mistake I think. Or less charitably: gobbledygook. Like taking Socrates is human and Socrates is sitting down to tell you in the same way two things that Socrates is. The apparent synonymy of "communion" used of the AC* might be an effect of pros hen equivocation, like calling horse piss and War Admiral "healthy".

When we follow Radner's talk of the elements constitutive of communion, we should keep a firm handle, so far as such a thing is possible, on when he equivocates on "communion". Why should we--anyone--think an element contitutive of a church's communion is also consitutive of pros hen equivocal communion? Just what are we bemoaning when we regret the loss or lack of visible unity in the church's communion--may we even talk of the AC* in the same breath? And who would think visible unity a necessary criterion of real unity? When he speaks of "The particular ministry of Anglicanism within the larger church is thus to be a school for communion, for the koinonia that can only arise from a specific form of evangelism and ecclesial life that..." how are we to regard the "larger" church? Larger in what sense? As if were we to take this church over here, and the other one over there we would have two of them and that would be larger--and if we went on like this we would eventually have the larger church, see.

In effect, his foreboding at the close,

While localism and confessionalism churn their way through the fields of the church, leaving only stubble for a Communion, the lethargy of ignorance and denial over the question itself is like a flame set to the barren stalks. We seek some other outcome. But perhaps the fire is already set, and another prayer of our Lord is wending its way to fulfillment (Lk. 12:49)

looks merely like an effect of persistent misunderstanding grown to unmanageable proportions.

The AC* is trying to be what it cannot be--that is, if we take its account of what it is trying to do to be what it is really doing. It is trying to do what a church does when it is not--and cannot be--a church. But I do not think it is really trying to instantiate Christian koinonia in the primary sense, the sense in which a church may be in communion. Rather, the AC* is attempting to centralize its power, and there is nothing distinctively Christian about that. Indeed, revivifying an analogate of and imitating the Constantinian project may seem quite pagan, the sort of thing corporations and governments and institutions with no special Christian identity do. We have been poorly schooled in Christianity indeed to mistake pagan futility for Christian vocation.


At 10:39 AM, Blogger Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Well said.

At 1:16 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

thank you sir

At 5:04 PM, Blogger Marshall Montgomery said...

Thanks for your reflections. I've written two posts, both of which also engage Tobias Haller's reflections. As a thoughtful commentator, I'd welcome your response. You can find my posts here and here.


At 10:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for cutting through Radner's obfuscation. I have come to the same conclusion you have about the Covenant's purpose and wrote a letter to 815 recommendng we not play the primates' game (omitting ++KJS, of course0.,

At 1:21 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

Thanks for the comments.

It's possible to see Radner's work altogether as implying the Holy Spirit cannot be working through individual churches in their current state of fragmentation. He might go on to infer--and this is I think his deep point--TEC must be wrong to claim the sanction of the Holy Spirit for its departures from Christian tradition.

I think that is wrong; it is not fragmentation that is a problem for teh Holy Spirit. Fragmentation might even be intended or preferred by God, for all I know. Fragmentation in obstinate sin is the problem. Churches and church groups hating each other work against the inspiration of the Spirit. I would say any work of a fragment done in hate has no prima facie claim to the Spirit.

At 1:23 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

Wow--you are doing alot of work there, Marshall. I'd like to take a close look soon--thanks!

At 2:26 PM, Blogger Frair John said...

I still can't quite shake the feeling that the "Covenent" is allready a dead letter.
The scudugery that brought us Lambeth 1:10 or the desperate pandering that gave us Tanzania could just as easily be repeated at Lambeth 2008 and WOOSH another documnet to be voted on. Or am I being paranoid?

At 3:01 PM, Blogger Marshall Montgomery said...

Please do check back soon--I'd be pleased to have your thoughts and criticisms.

Your thesis that "any work of a fragment done in hate has no prima facie claim to the Spirit" is a good one, but I'm also grappling with the fact that even things done in hate can be used by the Spirit to accomplish God's purposes. That is, evil is evil but God is always at work to redeem humanity (and all creation) from evil. Hence Joseph can say to his brothers in Egypt, "As for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good..." (Genesis 50:20, RSV--it is on this note that the book of Genesis comes to a close). Of course, the supreme example of this is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I'll post something more soon on this vein on my blog.

At 4:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I keep coming back and re-reading this because it's so good! The last paragraph is brilliant, and makes clear what is at stake. At first glance, the charge of 'paganism' is shocking, but I have reflected on the meaning of the word, and I believe you are right.


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