Sunday, April 27, 2008

A Brief Note

From the Financial Times, of all places:

Oil’s steady rise from below $15 a barrel in 1999 suggests that the world can weather price rises without significant harm to inflation or growth. A higher price makes oil exporters richer and oil importers poorer, but provided the prices of other goods adjust smoothly and workers do not demand higher wages to reflect their lower standard of living, then there should be no lasting effect on inflation.


Thursday, April 24, 2008

Another Illustration: High vs. Low Church

The topic of hunger is replete with Gospel and sacramental--particularly Eucharistic--overtones of course, and possesses a rather specific Anglo-catholic resonance; consider typical Anglo-catholic practices like reserving the sacrament, adoring the Host, fasting before and after the Eucharist, and so on. The doctrine of, and devotional practices around, the real presence of Christ in the sacraments implies the importance of the doctrine of the Incarnation for Anglo-catholics, I should think, and it goes without saying that there is a tradition of Christian socialism at home in Anglo-catholic spirituality. It is not at all as if high churchfolk have no resources from which to draw in addressing the concrete monstrosities of hunger, malnutrition, and starvation.

Having said that, I should mention Anglo-catholicism's public face in the US--which probably is constituted largely by Fort Worth and the like rather than, say, Affirming Catholicism types like Griswold--likely does not give the impression of being sympathetic to socialist intervention on any level of society.

The leftist evangelical is bound, however, to be struck forcefully by news of Haiti's government falling from food riots, food riots erupting in Yemen, development ministers urging steps be taken to address a world-wide food crisis, Walmart in the USA "rationing" rice, and--recalling Barth's mention of holding a Bible in one hand with the day's newspaper in another--to feel Christians are duty bound as Christians to do something now. They might feel the MDGs are highly relevant as a moral response to the kerygma, even concomitant to living faith. You might find them celbrating a Eucharist with an MDG banner behind the Altar instead of, say, a banner of Charles I behind an altar, a banner of choice at the rather Anglo-catholic St. Clements. Yes, one could work out the social relevance of Charles I with, for instance, the reissue of Trevor-Roper's provocative biography on Laud on hand--even so, so what? That kind of virtuosity is, and will most likely ever remain, too much of a stretch for many in the pews.

There is a difference here, I'm convinced, between high church, Anglo-catholic responses to news of global hunger and left evangelical responses--even if both embrace the virtue of almsgiving. For instance, moving afield from Anglicanism, consider some well known authors who seem to me typical of these different approaches. Onn the low-church, evangelical left:

Ron Sider, The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience: Why Are Christians Living Just Like the Rest of the World?

and one of my favorites: Rich Christians In An Age Of Hunger , which came out in a new version, it seems, here.

Speaking of reissues, don't miss this one, whose timing--considering the real and terrifying propect of global economic chaos--is exquisite. And the list could be extended with works from Jim Wallis and Tony Campolo, among numerous others. My point? Well,

(1) This left evangelical stuff is well done and immediately accessible. It does not require the kind of familiarity with ritual that goes with smooth celebration in Anglo-catholic parishes ("Just when do I cross myself around here?") or even, say, using the Daily Office at home--much less familiarity with the technicalities of Eucharistic or Incarnational theology (what I mean by the "metaphysical theology" embedded in the Creeds). Yet this stuff is solid enough to stand as a credible articulation of what a life lived under the Gospel really looks like; it is sufficient qua moral response to the kerygma.

That is to say, it's not just catechetical; it's the didache--from the left evangelical point of view.

Thus, (2) the left evangelical point of view has its own coherence and cogency quite apart from Anglo-catholic sensibility, even if the two are, as I think, compatible and even mutually reinforcing. Moreover, it seems important to note left evangelical moral sensibility, going light on metaphysical theology, stands a good chance of appealing to modernists--say, those schooled in and sympathetic to the scientific method--in a way high churchfolk insisting on high and not simply aesthetic views of the dominical sacraments, anthropology, the church, ordination, Incarnation, and the Trinity could not. Saying "this high stuff is a pretty part of our story, so let's keep these claims around in our liturgy and common life" is quite different from saying "this high stuff is literally true, and you had better come around to believing it, brothers and sisters, if you know what's good for you." The latter is apt, I'd contend, to offend a modernist--and the left evangelical might not ever get around to saying the latter.

So, (3) the left evangelical point of view can always become detatched and in practice within a denomination, foreign and even competitive with other points of view, like the high church, Anglo-catholic point of view. This is already happening in the Episcopal Church with mutual ministry--which could easily lead to lay celebration, communion without baptism, and preaching MDGs as necessary moral response to living the life Jesus wants you to lead.

On the basis of (1)-(3), it seems the left-evangelical movement will likely gather momentum in the mainstream and in the Episcopal Church, eventually becoming the majority voice heard in the prayerbooks. One can, I think, already see this among our Lutheran friends; their new prayerbook seems to me to lean in a left evangelical direction.

What we do not need as a response to this development, if it comes to be, is more fracturing and splitting from Anglo-catholics. That is what is most distressing about how Fort Worth is responding to the rise of left evangelicalism in the Episcopal Church. I presume deals could be made with Griswold et al, and Fort Worth-types could come to make uneasy peace with Affirming Catholics. But PB Schori is definitely not another Griswold; her tenure represents, to me, the ascendency of left evangelical spirituality in our church. Left evangelical spirituality is dangerous to Fort Worth-types in a way left Anglo-catholicism is not--dangerous enough to drive them to do very un-Anglo-catholic things, like pretend the Anglican Communion is a church. The issue of how we may yet live together will not go away anytime soon.

NB "High church" is a bit ambiguous, as is "low church." Granting one may have high church baptists, reformed folk, and so on, I'm conflating high church sensibility with Anglo-catholicism for convenience, to give the term some concrete sense, and low church sensibility with evangelicalism likewise, ready to admit other parties are kicking around.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

An illustration: High vs. Low Church

The question? "Why do we celebrate the Eucharist on Sunday?"

Here's how the Episcopal Church's liturgical officer, the Rev. Clayton Morris responds:

The worship life of the Episcopal Church is ordered in a series of rhythms. The liturgical year is punctuated by seasons: Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Holy Week, Easter, Pentecost and Ordinary Time.

From Advent to Pentecost, the life and ministry of Jesus is the thematic focus, Sunday by Sunday. From Trinity Sunday until the last Sunday after Pentecost, the weekly gathering of the community reflects on how it can "seek and serve Christ in all persons and strive for justice and peace among all people," in the words of the Baptismal Covenant. The week has its own rhythm.

The Book of Common Prayer calls the church to daily prayer, providing offices for morning, noon, evening and night. The prayer book also calls the church to gather as a congregation once a week to celebrate Eucharist.

Why does the church gather around a table with food and drink in its primary act of worship? Because God calls the church to a ministry of reconciliation. The church is called to restore the dignity of creation. It is all about feeding and being fed. It is all about making certain that all God's children are safe, whole and nourished. The ritual breaking of bread in the midst of the assembly reminds us of our task while it embodies its reality.

In its early history, the church always celebrated the Eucharist on Sunday. For a host of historical and circumstantial reasons, weekly Communion fell out of fashion over time so that, by the time Anglicanism was transplanted to the North American continent, Sunday morning worship without Communion was common. The drafters of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer were very clear about restoring the Eucharist to Sunday morning as a way of underscoring the church's ministry in the world.

So, as faithful Christians, we use the Daily Office in some form, alone or in community, to say our daily prayers. On Sunday, we gather as the body of Christ in the eucharistic assembly. We take bread, bless it, break and share it. Then we take our nourished bodies and souls into the world to do the work God has given us to do.

There is some stuff here that looks straightforward but is not, and could be unpacked--I've put it in boldface. This type of explanation strikes me as low, left evangelical, and rather well done for what it is. Notice a critical and, it seems to me, high-church reaction from a layperson on Fort Worth's Standing Committee (empahsis via boldface added by me):

This article written by the Rev. Clayton Morris, liturgical officer for the Episcopal Church, concerning “Since You Asked: Why Do We Celebrate the Eucharist on Sunday?” (Episcopal Life, March 31, 2008) is shocking in its explanation of the Holy Eucharist.
This explanation could apply to any secular gathering or meal where the goal is to make sure that “all God’s children are safe, fed, nourished, and whole.” This could be such things as a food bank project or any number of community gatherings or meals.
This has nothing to do with the Christian meaning of the Eucharist! Where is the saving, atoning death of Jesus on the cross in this explanation? Where is any mention of Jesus’ Body which was given for us and His Blood which was shed for us, as a final and complete sacrifice? Where is even a simple word about the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist? Where is any mention of our part in preparing to receive the Eucharist – “earnestly repenting of our sins, being in love and charity with our neighbors, and intending to lead a new life . .?” And where is any word about forgiveness of sins, strength, and amendment of life granted to partakers in this blessed sacrament by our Lord and Him alone?
The above explanation of the Eucharist has nothing to do with the holy sacrifice of Christ’s Body and Blood in this sacrament. It is appalling in its omissions.

The blog Apostolicity reporting this exchange presents it without comment, as if it did not need one: just another in a long series of events no longer needing elucidation. That is the saddest thing about it, I think; the layperson from Fort Worth sees only a complete negation of proper doctrine, a line of sentences completely secularized, having literally nothing to do with the genuine article. It might be natural for the layperson from Fort Worth to take the additional step of suspecting the Episcopal Church is apostate, or slipping into secularism, or committed to another religion altogether.

I'd disagree with the assessment from Fort Worth; it seems to me if the boldfaced items from Rev. Morris' piece were unpacked, they would coincide with the core concerns of the critic's piece. The difference is one of style (low-church evangelical vs. conservative high-church) and general emphasis or direction (left vs. right), not one of substance. The church catholic ought to be able to include both peacefully.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Social Justice From Below

Recently I made this point elsewhere in another context, but on reflection it seems worth making again here. At times one hears complaints that parts of the Episcopal Church are stressing social justice too much, and especially at the expense of the church's really essential business, its sacramental life. I'm sure there are abuses where, say, the social justice preacher is a closet Zwinglian, but one must be very careful treading over such ground. Treading on the territory of social justice we are NOT merely touching the Ethical, even if the words give that impression; we are touching the Religious, and one ought to take off one's shoes in the presence of God's desire that justice be done.

It does not really seem that difficult to tie concern for social justice to sacramental life, seeing that every normal Sunday Eucharist begins with an offering; i.e. the labor of the church community is sanctified with the Real Presence of Christ and returned to the community, sent out into the world to continue work as the body of Christ.

There are a number of themes integral to the Eucharist and the notion of justice–note how multiple Exchanges and Labor (even Objectification) are essential to the sacrament, how Communication of the Elements could bring up questions of what constitutes a fair exchange, how the collection of the offering implies a notion of common good, how the presentation of the elements imples a notion of representation, etc.

There is no–there cannot be–an apolitical or a politically neutral Eucharist.

Granted, loosey goosey lefty preachers might preach social justice and be too dull to notice the sacramental context in which they preach is soaked with the political. And how could it be otherwise than soaked when God is so clearly The Sovereign in our Eucharistic prayers? Just how could one fail to notice Christ the King?

But there is also a loosey goosey mentality abstracting the Eucharist from the political, as if real labor and real money and real paychecks and real exchanges were not actually involved and actually sanctified, as if it were all just symbolic or even pretend. Surely a priest with such an odd mentality can celebrate a valid Eucharist--no problem there. However, given the essentially political nature of the Eucharist, given that any political/sacramental dualism necessarily fails whatever the celebrants' mentality, given that discerning the body in Faith must carry the weight of a political commitment where witness could make a martyr, it seems fair to ask: what kind of faith goes with such a mentality? To the point: is it possible to be committed to Christ as Lord--as Lord--and Savior and not be politically committed precisely on account of one's commitment to Christ? Sure, insofar as commitment here below isn't simply binary as the question seems to imply. But insofar as discerning the Body must carry political meaning, and one is obligated to discern the Body as a condition of partaking in the Eucharist, an apolitical mentality at the Altar seems out of place.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Two Vey Brief Notes

(I.) Is this right--the Roman Catholic Church should be taken to teach that slavery is not unjust according to, and is consistent with, the natural law? That seems to be the gist of "Development or Reversal?” by Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J. in First Things' October '05 issue.

(II.) Given that this blog has been rather critical of +Radner's recent efforts to help formulate an Anglican covenant here and here (and see this on Seitz), it may be of interest to see how +Radner replies to my criticism, here.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Holmes: What Is Anglicanism? (Ch.s 3, 4, & 7)

Whence authority in the church? How can one know the church's authority? Holmes in Ch. 2 refers to councils, to epistemological worries, to the need to cultivate what amounts to epistemic humlity, to the need for accepting vagueness as the price for avoiding tyranny. "Sure" you might say, "but it's all rather bloodless." Where is Christ in it, and the Cross?

the Incarnation, ch. 4

Holmes notes Tillich once called the doctrine of the Incarnation "the Anglican heresy," dramatizing Tillich's distance from what should be "a central doctrine to Anglicanism" (25), and--it seems to me--implying the innovations of Robinson, Borg, and Spong, et al. who in various ways deny or drastically reinterpret the doctrine of the Incarnation, are peripheral to the core of the Episcopal Church--pace its more strident critics.

Nevertheless, commitment to a high, Chalcedonian doctrine of the Incarnation would seem to give even strident critics rather significant common ground with the likes of Holmes and those high churchfolk who might be tolerant or supportive of GC2003 and who think roughly as Holmes does. It seems to me, for instance, that arguments about GC2003 generally have not been carried on from mutual acknowledgement of the Incarnation as even potentially decisive. There seems to be a presumption the doctrine is broadly irrelevant to the issues in play.

Even though "we will never plumb the depths of God's true purpose in becoming humanity," (27)Holmes says we can and should nevertheless accept the doctrine's implications. To begin with, Holmes writes as "God created everything that is," it follows "[t]he material world is good." That is not to say, and indeed rather rules out, that, as pantheism would have it, God is identified with nature; Holmes rightly sees the Incarnation within the doctrine of creation as incompatible with pantheism. Rather, God works out his purpose "in and through creation, and yet [that purpose is] incomplete in and not infrequently thwarted by nature." (27-8)

For Holmes, the "image of God in humankind is the presence there of the logos of God" namely "the ability to act in a self-conscious or reflective way," and the "principle" of this is Christ himself. (28) Though defaced by sin, "[w]e do not believe that this [the image of God] is ever totally destroyed in us." (28) That is quite significant, rendering "insignificant those who struggle against the great discoveries of science...." (28) We should not see human reason as so damaged by the Fall that its scientific exercise is somehow unreliable, and we should expect science and the faith to be, ideally, compatible; there need be no incompatibility between them.

Still, "[w]ith the ability to reason comes the ability to sin," in effect to refuse "to serve with God as co-creators, partners in bringing to fulfillment his vision for creation;" instead in sin "we impose upon each other and the world in general our personal preferences, with no concern for God." (29) God created us for partnership with him; this is "announced" (29) in the Incarnation. Indeed, even if we had not sinned, Holmes holds "God would have become flesh." (27) The material world, and God's partnership with humanity in the ongoing work of creation, are important enough to enjoy a kind of priority to sin and its effects.

Somewhat mysteriously, even tentatively, Holmes writes we should understand "the Incarnation embraces the totality of life," namely "the entire experience with all its conflict and ambiguity." (29) He means to speak of evil; God, Holmes seems to say, permits evil in the world in order to work good through evil. This was so even with Christ; "Christ's passage into the darkness we call Hell," Holmes notes, "was not an abstraction" or "playacting" but "a confrontation with the terror of nothingness both within and without;" Christ was "staring into the face of evil" and at Mark 15:34 made "an authentic cry of pain"--the fully divine being also fully human. (30) God knows the evil of the world, the evil from which we suffer, first hand, and nevertheless still creates, still works his purpose in the world; God does not sanitize the world or give it anesthesia to knock it out in the meantime, so to speak.

The only proper response to this, for Holmes, is "dread": "[t]he Incarnation teaches us to live into the fecundity of dread"--"the mystery of God's darkness." (30) The darkness "in us" is also "in God," Holmes says (30). That is not to say God sins, or is malicious or sadistic. Perhaps the point is that the futility, the waste, the pain of evil are part of our experience being human, part of what we must go through "armed with the cross of Christ" (31), and God in Christ has not insulated himself from this part of who we are, but has even gone so far as to take it into who he is.

Holmes writes we should not think of God in "sanitized" terms, so that "God becomes", for instance, "a southern gentleman"--a Compson man, perhaps. Actually, for what it's worth (and I apologize for any offense in advance), it is quite interesting to contemplate the Compsons of The Sound and the Fury and Absalom! Absalom! with Holmes' meditation on the problem of evil in mind. But that's work for another day.

A proper vision of God's darkness, Holmes hopes, preempts a "debased Anglicanism" that "confuses cultural ideals and values with the mind of God." (31) Rather, with the Incarnation in mind we should understand that "Christ transforms culture, he is not a projection of the culture"--indeed, a "radical incarnationalism" yields a religion that "keeps us on edge" returning continually to "the Cross of Christ," (31) a religion spreading an awareness that "never allows us to take our rest, but calls us to rise up and seek the promise." (32) Christ is, as it were, present on the outside among those who suffer, and in particular among those who suffer as he did at the hands of agents of an evil, sinful culture. Any church in solidarity with Christ is there with him, on the outside as he was, prepared to suffer as he did. For with Christ, as with the church, the evil in a culture is not there to be tolerated or forgotten, but transformed even at the cost of suffering, even great suffering.

the Bible, ch. 3

Holmes claims that for Anglicanism, "the authority of the Bible is without question" but "hearing what the Bible says is not a simple matter"--its "fresh and telling message" is "so difficult for us to hear." (23) Part of the problem is with a kind of resistance from the readers. To hear what the Bible says we have to be properly oriented to it. We should "understand ourselves" in the sense of being open to having the Bible examine and reprove us; we "have to be willing to let the text call us and our pet theories into question." (22) Being open to having the Bible criticize us implies "we have to risk our interpretation within the larger dialogue" rather than rest content with "private interpretation," even if that means we end with more questions. (22-3)

Moreover, and perhaps more subtly, we have to be careful to read the Bible "as whole" lest we "allow ourselves to cherish our favorite book" or verses, "dismissing those that do not appeal to us" and gerrymandering a reading of Scripture to fit comfortable prejudices, insulating ourselves. (21) Anglicans should have, and Holmes claims normally do have, a "discomfort with the use of 'proof texts'." (20) Our practice of reading Scripture according to a lectionary helps here, he notes--another reason for the Daily Office, if one is needed. (21)

Thus we might fail to hear the Bible, Holmes seems to say, on moral grounds by culpably presuming our way of life and our understanding is already sufficient. Failure to read the Bible whole--and to actually study the whole of it, and failure to leave our cherished ways and readings open to reproof are not merely intellectual errors. It follows we ought to be constantly ready for reproof from Scripture, and reading Scripture in general should not be a matter of coming to a final understanding, isolated from the need to revise and even begin anew.

But we may also fail to hear the Bible by failing to "probe its mysteries." (23) We should not only aim "to understand the words" and what they meant when they were written, but we also should aim "to understand the author" in terms of "what the author would be likely to think and do, given his culture and society," as with such an understanding we can see "how he builds his reality." (22) The aim is to avoid imputing meaning to the text that it could not have had, or would be unlikely to have had, given the concrete, historical reality of the words of the text and the text's author(s). Holmes notes "there is no perfect text of the Bible," and we should accept "the cultural conditioning of the books of he Bible as self-evident." (19) Thus, the "authors and editors of the Bible were historical human beings with the normal biases we would expect." (19) We are obligated to attend to historical criticism in reading the Bible--a reading neglecting the warts on the text and the authors is not just unreliable but irresponsible.

These conditions for reading Scripture well-- in his words probing its mysteries and letting ourselves be touched by it--are consistent with understanding the Bible as Holmes holds it should be, namley as inspired. That is not to say he advocates "verbal inspiration," as if "every word was dictated by God." (20) Rather, his phrase is "plenary inspiration" (20). That is, read whole, the Bible is inspired to convey a certain story, and in conveying the story it has its authority.

We are to see it telling "the story of a God who reveals himself in the history of Israel and finally in Jesus of Nazereth," which is also "the story of God's love for humankind," a story that "confronts us, convicts [us] of our sin and calls us to new life." (20) In the text, the text within the church telling this story, the church has "the record of God's personal self-disclosure of himself to us," a disclosure that "recounts a lover's longing for the beloved" and "if we are to move beyond the words to experience that love, it is the power of the story and the rhythym of the poem that will draw us there." (21) Grasped by the story this way, it "can be a means of God's saving grace changing the lives of those who read it." (19)

the episcopate, ch. 7

Holmes argues that bishops are necessary not for the being or even the well being of the church, but rather its full being; going without an episcopate does not make a community non-Christian, but instead merely impedes its relationship with Christ. (54) Though each of the four orders of the church--counting the laity--"represents the church to God," bishops priests and deacons "also represent God in Christ to the Church, " and the ministry of the priest and deacon "is an extension of the bishop's" (55), implying that the bishop has a special responsibility, greater than that even of the priest and deacon, to represent God in Christ to the church. Those "in Holy Orders" according to Holmes "do not merely perform the functions of the church" (55)--they "are the embodiment of a transcendent Word" (56): "high doctrine of the episcopacy" indeed.

Holmes seems to derive his understanding of the episcopate from that of Hobart, whom he celebrates not only for invigorating the once moribund practice of the episcopate in this country, but also for rendering it theologically defensible. For Hobart and Holmes, going "beyond simple biblical proof," the episcopacy is not a matter of "tactual succession" where apostolic power or authority, conceived in material, mechanical terms, flows through bishops as through a pipeline, pace the Tractarians. (53) Bishops embody the Word by their "profound symbolic power"; a bishop is "the real symbol, of the universality of the church" (53). The church, being "the primordial sacrament of Christ" is obligated to "transcend the immediate time and the particular place" so as to be "a historical incarnation of the eternal Lord in all times and all places." (53) Strong words: he seems to understand the church in these quotes to be the Body of Christ in a strong sense, not a merely metaphorical or figurative sense.

Holmes sees the episcopate as symbolizing the church's peculiar transcendence in which it "incarnates" the Lord always and everywhere. He seems to mean that without bishops, the church's effort of presenting God in Christ would remain abstract, and to that extent defective. That is--and here I'm piecing bits together on Holmes' behalf--whereas the bishop, being designated as an apostle, embodies or at least ought to embody a transhistorical praxis, a way of life going beyond "cultural expressions" and ""purely national interests." (53)

Laity, for instance, standing with the bishop, participate in that concrete, transhistorical praxis. Or, in other words: the church brings Christians into its transhistorical reality primarily through participation in the praxis of its bishops. And not just laity--"[p]riests and deacons cannot reproduce their own kind. Their ministry is an extension of the bishop's" (55). The serivice ministry peculiar to deacons is an extension of the bishop's ministry, and the parish priest "serves there as the bishop's representative." (54) It follows, Holmes notes, that bishops are especially responsible not merely for the discipline of the church required for retaining its continuity in catholicity, but especially its teaching and preaching, wherein the bishop "speaks out of the universal experience of the church" so that the church is enabled to "transcend the immediate situation" and hold onto "a catholic vision." (53)

On Holmes' model, "authority flows both from the church and from God and is rendered incarnate in the life and ministry of the bishop" (56); Holmes does not conceive episcopal authority apart from subordination to the church community as a whole. Still, with such a view it is not much of a surprise that he objects to the Episcopal Church's polity; he claims in TEC often "we expect our bishops, rather than calling us to a new awareness of what it means to be the people of God, to assure us that we are all good people." (56) This alleged tendency to the election of mediocre bishops is rooted, he claims, "in the American system of electing bishops," a system which reinforces a tendency "to look for someone who will please." (56)

Evidently Holmes would not be averse, ceteris paribus, to reforming our polity so that it would be less democratic and less responsive to the will of the laity, at least in choosing bishops. He writes "the constitution of the Episcopal Church as a result of the inordinate fear of prelacy so limited the bishops as we know them that they have relatively little real power." (52) Here I have to disagree, having some knowledge of Bishops Schofield, Duncan and Iker--and some would add PB Schori. The episcopate's powers can be circumscribed and checked without impairing their essential symbolic function.

I recall Holmes' earlier point (Ch. 2, 15) that authority in Anglicanism should be exercised through councils; accountability seems essential to the proper exercise of episcopal power. The issue might be the location of the council to which the individual bishop is accountable: the national province, or something larger? We have here at least the roots of an intuition contrary to Williams' seeming ecclesiology, which saw the bishop and diocese as fundamental to the church, separable from and prior to the province. If accountability points "upward", to the necessity of embedding the diocese in a larger structure if the bishop is to move the church toward its full being, subsidiarity would seem to point "downward", toward embedding the diocese in the lowest possible level of conciliar authority. The result, so far as I can see, would be to embed the diocese in a province wherever a province is available, rather than in some larger entity.

Putting all of this together

I think Holmes is pretty clear in pointing out that bishops and councils will not yield clear-cut, much less infallible, specific answers to problems and questions vexing the church or the world. In particular, he might say it is just wrong-headed to seriously expect Lambeth, or TEC's GC, to pronounce on the absolute truth about whether actively gay bishops may be ordained, or whether the church may perform blessings for SSUs. That is to wrongly conceive their authority.

For example, the bishop--charged with teaching the faith--who turns to the Bible in order to find the answer, God's truth, about whether an actively gay bishop may be ordained in a rule the way one would turn to the canons or better, the statutes of traffic or maritime law, has made a mistake about the authority of the Bible. Reading the Bible as it should be read is to take it as a narrative, and that places the Bible wholly in a genre rather different from that of traffic law.
However, the bishop who reads the Bible as delivering a narrative is positioned to ask about ordination or the blessing of SSUs; it seems hardly Holmes' intention to silence the Bible by insisting on its narrative character for the church. One would be asking, in effect, how are we being called to continue this story? Oddly enough, I think Holmes and NT Wright are "on the same page" with regard to hermeneutics, which is to say the strategy offered is potentially politically neutral.

Of more interest to me, at least, is Holmes' general picture. It seems he pictures the bishops of a province leading the church there in a "radical incarnationalism" that seeks to continue the biblical narrative by discerning where culture requires transformation and then actively confronting and convicting culture, taking up the Cross and accepting whatever pain and confusion results, all in an obedience to Christ that waits not for infallible deliverances about what is to be done, but takes stands in willingness to repent when needed. It goes without saying such a church would be politically active in its mission--and it seems to go without saying as well that Holmes would not recognize an episcopal office apart from prophetic duty.