Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Seitz on catholic anglicanism

On T19 recently I came across this comment from Seitz of the ACI, a comment which seems mistaken:

Anglicans are Christians in a Communion (hence ACI). They are not national churches where one uses a retinal scanner to get into a new ‘Christian’ zones. And neither is the Communion a collection of the like-minded in Provinces which are inventing a new kind of Anglicanism—even for very pressing reasons. If it comes to that, the Communion is over anywhere. It may come to that. Some may want it to come to that. Others are wanting to do everything possible to prevent the fracture of anglicanism whilst maintaining things like ‘CA Principles’ (e.g.).

The Anglican Communion to which Seitz refers is not a church; this is not how it was envisaged at its inception, and nothing in its history to this day indicates that over time it became a church. Whatever communion exists in the Anglican Communion, it is not the same communion as that celebrated and enacted in the sacraments of Holy Baptism and the Eucharist.

To my limited knowledge, nobody is ordained simply into the Anglican Communion as a deacon, priest, or bishop or simply baptized into it as laity: "you're a Communionite". Nobody celebrates simply on the Anglican Communion's behalf, save in a derivative sense. At the moment, it cannot be done; there is no causally accessible path.

Indeed, there may be said to be a communion associated with membership in the Anglican Communion, but "communion" in this sense is derivative from a prior relation established in the dominical sacraments as practiced in Christian churches.

Thus, as the Anglican Communion is not a church, if what were known as national churches are not really churches after all, then there are no Anglican churches anywhere. What then of our orders? Our sacraments? All irregular, all the time? Or maybe he would suggest there are in fact many more Anglican churches than anyone ever realized, each diocese being an Anglican church unto itself whether it knew itself to be that or not? Maybe--who can tell? He just seeems to be making this stuff up. Or better: it seems a peculiar service to render expedience, a new liturgy if you will: the ad hoc ministration.

But seriously, his ecclesiological fantasies are supposed to express a normative notion of catholicity? Who buys this rather private notion of "catholic anglicanism"? Foisting this patent absurdity on our divines does them no service. Surely, foisting it on the Episcopal Church and the rest of the Anglican Communion is no service either.

San Joaquin & the Southern Cone

On the face of it, it appears that what Abp. Venables of the Southern Cone was tring to do with Bishop Schofield and the Diocese of San Joaquin was contrary to the canons of the Southern Cone itself. One might have greeted the news of Venables assuming authority as a marginal improvement in the situation, inasmuch as Schofield and those going along with him would then at least have been formally accountable to someone, and would not be left simply to improvise while wandering in a limbo of their own design. But now it seems such optimism was hasty; Venables' assumption of authority reproduces the same type of disorder Schofield's assumption of authority produced. That is, he acts not merely in an area neglected by or left vague in the relevant canons, but acts contrary to the canons. In effect, he assumes a position of sovereignty with respect to those over whom he exercises this power; he enters in to a state of exception with regard to them.

In my opinion, any exercise of that type of authority is grave; what it means for those believers who have in practice been dragged into Schofield and Venables' experiment is that, as I've noted earlier

[t]hey are now in a kind of limbo. They have been made to exist in a space where anything is possible, insofar as they are parishoners.... They have been made the exceptions on the receiving end of an exercise of [extracanonical] sovereign authority, a kind of self-constituting act by Schofield [and Venables]. That is, by acting just as a genuine, regular bishop may, he [and Venables] might constitute[their] power as genuinely and regularly episcopal

and the result for the time being is

[n]ot just a kind of state of nature, but rather a kind of normalization of certain aspects of the state of nature, or better: a new communion of provinces is envisaged with relief, pride, and joy where these aspects are considered normal. Where community is established through such means beyond canon and law, beyond ethical rationality and accountability, it cannot help but instantiate the camp as its type.

That is, the ripples of ecclesial disorder and diminished being initiated by Schofield's salto mortale--recall for example his risible effort to remain both in the Episcopal Church and the Southern Cone as a viable bishop in each--have not gone away. They are spreading and have apparently already enveloped Venables and the Southern Cone.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Secret Plans!

As you've likely heard, a tiny international clique--a clique that seems to only tenuously include our Presiding Bishop--has launched secret plans to rescue the Episcopal Church, and perhaps thereby the Anglican Communion, from an even wider and more violent schism than we've yet seen. And the plans may succeed: they seem tolerable, they do not reward the extremists from among the Separatists, and indeed seem to sidestep the wild Minns/Sugden axis with its Duncan/Iker/Schofield/Venables/etc minions. One might look forward with a modest measure of hope to a general resolution to the conflict among those who differ over the presenting issues of GC2003, but are acting in good faith to avoid schism. That is, it seems those bent on schism from the Windsor Process' inception are not players in this. These plans are not a recipe for pleasing them; the reasonable majority seems to have finally realized that cannot happen here below. Perhaps then some settlement can be forged from among the good faith parties, with this initial, secret international affair providing a starting point?

Still, this way of doing things just seems so unfortunate: a public forum in the Episcopal Church, or in the Anglican Communion, that could function to support the type of discourse that might have a chance to keep the Communion from fracturing simply does not exist. If solutions are to be found, they must be found sub rosa, on the basis of personal relationships among the remaining reasonable members of the power elite. The General Convention, Lambeth, the Primates meetings et al have in effect forfeited the role of providing the compromises necessary for reconciliation. It would be interesting to ask:

Why this evacuation of power from public discourse? To what extent have competing, purity-obsessed factions become so powerful in our public councils that a Leviathan-prince is required to keep parties in check?

I'm presuming recollection of Hobbes' argument for civil polity's requiring submission to an absolute sovereign, to whom I attach the tag "Leviathan-prince"--the faint allusion to Machiavelli is meant to underscore how much this whole affair looks to the outside like an unprincipled exercise of power. Of course I don't mean to imply there is just one guy involved; strictly, it might be better to speak of an oligarchy with a princeps inter pares in this case.

Regardless of whether we're dealing with one secret sovereign or many, we should ask: Do we really need this Leviathan-prince? Do we need to belong to a Communion that enables such a concentration of unrepresentative and unaccountable power?

There is no open protocol, no provision for representation, no formal, institutional check on the exercise of power in such proceedings as these. They amount to an exercise of pure sovereignty, carried on outside the rules--here indeed thankfully for the sake of a perceived common good--and if actually efficacious, what precedent will have been set? What praxis will have been thereby encouraged?

Are such shady proceedings morally permissible? To some extent, if the irregular procedure succeeds in securing the common good, it is justified, and one may let it pass as--hopefully--a one-time affair. But who thinks the occasion for recourse to the backroom deal will pass soon? Must we look forward to this sort of thing happening again and again? It's alimentary: the patient peristalsis of time and institutional process will likely leave extremists in positions of power on the inside for quite a long time before requiring they pass.

That is, it seems alongside the apparent instruments of unity, about which we have heard so much, and alongside the actual canonical institutions of ecclesial power, the shadowy real instruments of unity and real institutions of eccelsial power may be taking shape.

So: is it morally right for us to submit ourselves to the power such a Leviathan-prince? Even if it were the pragmatic way, maybe we--being faithful rather than merely pragmatic--would be required to prescind and take the resulting consequences.

What then of the apparent instruments and institutions? Why take them seriously? Why pretend? In short: do these proceedings have implications for the development of a Covenant? I should think they do, and I say so with certain words from Seitz in mind:

For those Dioceses which wish to abide by Camp Allen Principles, this Plan offers a way to model full and enthusiastic compliance with Communion life. This is particularly important at a time when the terms of belonging to the wider Communion are under assessment and negotiation.

The discernible trajectory desired by the elite is no secret: finding some way to codify "Camp Allen Principles", or some set of measures of which they would be a principal proper part, for the Communion. It may not matter whether those principles appear in the open letter of the document, or are understood tacitly as principles guiding a sovereign praxis.

The apparent institutions/instruments which seem to channel power are one thing; and they were already operating outside fair procedure in the Primates' Meetings in my opinion. The stream of discourse issuing from them occupies a great deal of time and energy; one reads them and analyzes them taking their justifications and interpretations at face value to represent what is actually going on and why it is going on with a rough accuracy.

But what if, behind the apparent stream of institutional discourse, there is another genuinely efficacious discourse, in which horses are traded, deals made, authentic opinions voiced and the painful alternatives weighed while compromises grind through? Would that render the apparent stream of institutional discourse merely ideological, a mere shadow play for the children--and the adults obliged to sit through it all? Would that make the Covenant in the end an ideological instrument, a sop for chumps, so that it becomes a stick to be weilded--whatever it might say in the end--by members of the elite against those who defy its dictates?

The good sought by this slice of the Anglican power elite, whether it really includes our Presiding Bishop, is laudable: peace in our time. But proceed with your eyes open.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Among the Whoas of Exclusivism

The angelic doctor, Thomas, touches on something important with his

beati in regno coelestia videnbunt poenas domnatorum, ut beatitudo illis magis complaceat, [The blessed in the kingdom of heaven will see the punishments of the damned, in order that their bliss be more delightful to them, STIII Suppl Q94, Art1, tr. Clark and Swensen; i.e it's quite literal]

which I first came across in Nietzsche's Geneology. There is something, well, barbaric about this strain of "hallowed" Christian tradition, a strain quite alive today.

But then what's an exclusivist to say? Does the end of the damned torment the saved--the lost brother, mother, sister, father, spouse, friend? That wouldn't be much of a salvation. Nor would it seem fitting for them to be neutral about it, shrugging their shoulders as it were with a heavenly "Oh well." Sure, CS Lewis (The Great Divorce) might say that the damned should not have the power to torment the saved--but that's a dodge; the question is not one of the damned actively causing sorrow in the saved. Even if the pain and sorrow were, say, merely supererogatory, still it would be a surprise to hear all of the saved always feel neither pain nor joy at the fate of the damned.

Then what? Maybe God "damns the memories" of the lost, so that memories of them are wiped clean from the saved. Is that metaphysically possible though? That is, one could make a strong case that the Augustinean "inner man" would not survive such a mutilation intact, at least in some cases, e.g. where a parent or child or spouse is damned.

And if it were possible, would that be the kind of act God would have recourse to, even if it were permissible? That's a tough question, of course: God is free, free, free. But that is enough perhaps for a seed of doubt about exclusivism, no?

Friday, February 01, 2008

Scriptural Authority: A Test Case

Here's Paul, or perhaps some member(s) of his group, in I Tim. 2:

12I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent. 13For Adam was formed first, then Eve; 14and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. 15Yet she will be saved through childbearing, provided they continue in faith and love and holiness, with modesty.

"Continue in faith" might be contrued from the earlier passage:

3This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour, 4who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 5Forthere is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind,Christ Jesus, himself human, 6 who gave himself a ransom for all—this was attested at the right time.

That's a quick summary of the kerygma. Moreover, my NRSV source tells me "woman" might well refer to wives, and "man" to husbands. On a plain sense/grammatical reading with a little splash of lower criticism from my NRSV editors, I Timothy implies faith, even with love et al, is insufficient for the salvation of a wife. That is, a woman who gets married and does not bear a child is damned. It's not just a sin; salvation itself seems precluded, as if a necessary condition were being denied. Logically, this might be regimented:

for any wife x, if x is saved, then x continues in faith, ..., and bears a child.

Further, "bear a child" has a plain sense here which, taken strictly, excludes C-sections--something which could not have been intended by Paul or his school. Indeed, the text, namely

11Let a woman learn in silence with full submission. 12I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent. 13For Adam was formed first, then Eve; 14and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.

alludes to the Genesis creation stories, setting a context for verse 15. It seems wives are obliged to bear children, suffering the curse from Genesis on childbearing. To bear children while evading the curse seems to be a sin, a sin of such magnitude the wife's salvation is endangered, even lost if she does not have at least one child "the natural way." One imagines I Tim. would have quite sternly disapproved of pain medication for childbearing wives.
Of course, my exegesis is ridiculous. I suppose one might "bite the bullet" and insist that I did get it right, and what seems like foolishness to degraded "Greeks" like me is holy wisdom from God; I just don't have the ears to hear it. But that seems farfetched, even in view of Scripture itself. One would have expected such a condition to show up in other discussions of salvation prima facie giving necessary conditions; that it does not show up counts decisively against my plain sense reading. Suppose my reading is off somehow; well, what went wrong?

Maybe I missed the plain sense, particulary in how I regimented the text above. I'd like to see a plausible plain sense alternative respecting the cognitive and expressive limits of the author(s). Perhaps contrary plain sense readings would stretch the plain sense of "plain sense," bringing in covert, speculative opinions to defuse what otherwise seems incredible.

Or maybe I did not miss the plain sense--maybe I expressed roughly what the human author(s) intended while writing at the time--but what the author(s) intended is not the Scriptural significance that God would wish one to take away from the text. In other words, perhaps the human author(s) made an instructive mistake, as Plato seems to have portrayed Socrates making instructive mistakes (e.g. at the end of Republic I). Thus, mistakes would not invalidate the text, but would partially constitute its validity; we are supposed to know better on the basis of more important scriptural principles gleaned elsewhere, like in verses 5-6. The plain sense would not necessarily be the sense Scripture carries.

My point: any method of interpretation that cannot handle this passage is incomplete. Can the Separatists, who are committed to a plain sense hermeneutic, handle it? I'm not sure: maybe a skilled pen could produce a plausible exegesis.