Thursday, October 30, 2008

Against Semipelagianism

Semipelagianism (hence "SP")--developed by John Cassian in response to Augustine's polemic against Pelagius--implies that one makes a free first step toward salvation, a first step that is in the power of the individual apart from grace. That first step in itself is incomplete, and can be completed only with God's assistance by means of grace.

It seems that SP implies

(A) there can be human actions apart from God's grace,

and that is a proposition I wish to deny. No aspect of human action is possible apart from grace. Insofar as there is an aspect of human action--moral or otherwise--it owes its reality to God's act of creation. But God's act of creation is one of grace--it is a sheer gift. However, since SP implies (A), and (A) is--so far as I can tell--false, it follows SP is false.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

salus populi est suprema lex

Derek replied some time ago to my reflections on Mary--and though this is perhaps now an ancient controversy, I still have something left to say.

Things seem to have "wound down" considerably, as we might have reached bedrock conviction on a number of issues.

Consider the distinction between dogma and doctrine; "[t]his," he says, "as far as I’m concerned, is why this is worth fighting over." He is right to say that if the fifth Marian dogma is in fact a true dogma, I should wish to see him converted to it, as dogma by its very nature is mandatory. I agree with him. But look: timing is everything. I would wish him to be converted--but when? When I want to see it happen? No--in God's time. Sure, we have to sow the seeds of dogma, but that doesn't imply they will sprout on my schedule. At the suggestion he might be an anonymous Marian--that he might have already, anonymouosly have accepted the fifth dogma regardless of his conscious dissent here below--he is offended:

I hate to say it, but this completely rubs me the wrong way. If a roshi told me that I was an anonymous Buddhist, or if I were told by an imam that I was an anonymous Muslim, I’d thank them nicely for their complement of my character but feel a bit annoyed at their condescension.

Well, what if the roshi or the imam were right? John reflects on our preference for darkness and shadow in his gospel--annoyance would be an expected reaction to confrontation with dogma--on Scriptural grounds even. That may be condescending, but I think John would say I prefer darkness on other issues and practices; who can stand to leave the shade for long?

But, on the other hand, this may be bedrock for him: the notion of an anonymous Christian or Marian or whatever is--perhaps--just inconceivable. To the contrary, it strikes me that this is just how God operates elsewhere. Who would have guessed you'd be born--exactly you and not some other? Approximately nobody--and God didn't ask your permission first. You were thrown into the mix, and that's all there is to it. Who's to say you won't get tossed around again? I think of God as throwing us into new--even scarcely conceivable--existential situations, but Derek does not. And that seems to be a bedrock difference.

Consider too how Derek develops the theological notion of recapitulation to help make sense of Marian dogmas. He writes:

The central question for me, then, is origin and volition: was the choice of obedience at the annunciation Mary’s free, “unaided” will, or was it her choice assisted and inspired by the Spirit already at work in her life? I can’t see it any other way than the second. To my way of thinking, even Mary’s “yes” was at God’s initiative through grace. It was surely not a coerced “yes”, but the prime mover for the action, its true origin, was in God and not Mary herself.

He has come to several large issues here--how human will relates to divine will, the nature of human action, how grace impacts action and the will, et al. These issues are so large, reasonable people may well be expected to disagree--like Banez and Molina, say. If settling on whether to accept the fifth dogma depends on addressing these issues, it may be each side has at least a prima facie reasonable case, and tolerance is called for from each side toward the other. We can probably agree on that.

Even so, another bedrock difference might emerge. It seems Derek has a rather Lutheran view of freewill--taking Luther's debate with Erasmus as defining where Luther stood. On that view--if I understand Derek correctly--Mary is no more an autonomous agent when she says "Yes" to God than an axe is when I swing it and split firewood, to adapt a figure from Luther. Surely in each case Mary and the axe play a role, perhaps an essential role, but their roles have nothing to do with autonomous freedom or incompatibilist freedom, to use the technical term. But on just this point, I side with Erasmus. To put it crudely: Mary and God act together in producing her "Yes," but she contributes something apart from God, which God could not contribute on his own, without which there would be no "Yes" at all--and could not be. Pressed, I would fall back on an amalgam of Scotus and Molina (as yet unpublished, mea culpa) in defense. Anyhow, here we seem to have another bedrock difference.

Given these differences, it's a good thing we can tolerate each other. There is something in our compatibility that recommends the Anglican ethos; for instance, neither of us are obligated as Anglicans to refuse to participate in the Eucharist with the other. To him, I'm probably confusing dogma with doctrine, but the doctrine is relatively harmless if a bit bizzare. To me, he is in for a big surprise.

Is it over yet?

Like those Japanese holdouts from World War II who stayed the course right through the '40s and '50s, right-wing Anglicans continue to insist on fighting yesterday's battles tomorrow.

In case you've been hiding in the jungle for the last couple months or so, you should know that the last shreds of the ragged fabric of conservative ideology have unraveled, disintegrating spectacularly across the globe. Once upon a time Neoconservatism seemed compelling--can anyone after our five years in Iraq and Afganistan mouth neocon pieties with a straight face? And I still have relatives who self-identify as fiscal conservatives, though they are currently in a state of shock. I don't personally know anyone who follows fiscal conservatism out to its logical extreme--libertarianism or anarcho-capitalism--but there are a few high-profile examples out there on the radio and the internet. The Republican Party from Reagan forward--who remembers Nixon fixing prices?--has been happy to run huge deficits on principle, and that has always seemed to me sufficient to show that their fiscal conservative/libertarian rhetoric a la Buchanan, Tullock and von Mises was just for chumps, alot of chumps. Classical liberalism has long been dead.

Nevertheless, there are too many dead-enders with too much invested to abandon folly. Or, just as credit markets are said to be "frozen," we might say these secessionists are frozen, locked into their course.

What remains? Visceral, grumpy conservatism: paleocons, mashing together Burke with Kirk, social Darwinism and christianist fundamentalism, all with little regard for consistency--consistency which would lead to the already discredited neocon or classical liberal positions.

There are still consistent conservative positions available, yet to be tried: Carl Schmitt & Martin Heidegger might do in a pinch as the focus for new efforts willing to tacitly give up on Christianity's truth. I am impressed at how far the U.S. seems to have adopted Schmitt's point of view, as one can see in how our Executive Branch's powers have expanded in the War on Terror. But I do not think right-wing American voters are ready to embrace Schmitt/Heidegger openly. More likely: the right-wing elite embraces them, moving away from Strauss, while the elite's PR wing produces a front for their mass following consisiting of a jumble of grumpy, fiscal, and neocon positions. And from that quarter we will likely hear an intensification of calls to confront the Enemy for, say, defying "our" religion or "our" political values or "our" way of life.

I've made the point before that GAFCON's efforts are riddled with inconsistencies; there is nothing there to serve as a stable foundation for debate, much less a form of life. Likewise with the Southern Cone: Preludium makes the point that its reception of Schofield and Duncan generates internal inconsistencies. And so what? Like right-wing dead enders, Anglican dead enders have no remaining coherent ideology, Christian or otherwise. What we are dealing with in the Anglican Communion is power politics, Machiavelli writ large, or maybe "theologico-political realism" for lack of a better term. The end of realignment justifies the praxeis necessary to produce the relevant result, so the key is to work out the mechanics of how to get to realignment.

That is ironically the very thing Archbishop Williams probably detests most of all; yes--he detests liberalism in its various forms--political, classical, theological--but liberalism is rooted in realism as an attempt to move realism in an ethically circimscribed direction: not Hobbes' leviathan but Locke's polity, not mercantilism but Smith's mostly free markets, etc. The problem is that such ethical circumscription does not typically restore theological primacy. Williams likely did not see TEC's Global South critics in terms of machiavellian realism, at least until very recently. Sure, maybe the GS is actually rightly characterized as accepting theological primacy for the most part, and the problem is rather with Minns-primacy; I hear he was once a high-powered businessman well-placed in the world. Maybe he--and other American GS leaders--picked up machiavellian habits from long habituation to the "rules of power" in the marketplace. Who knows? Williams wanted to restore theological primacy, even before seeing it take a left-wing course; thus he was willing to work with the GS as long as it seemed they too accepted theological primacy, even if wishing it to take a right-wing course.

Now? We're waiting for Fort Worth, and perhaps others, to consummate their union with the ethos of machiavellian realism through performing the act, the act of schism. Won't be long now.

And what then? Preaching the Gospel and celebrating the Eucharist: what else? The Episcopal Church will have failed--this time--at containing competing factions within a common worship. Do you think the Church of England hasn't likewise failed? Remember the roundheads. More important than success at maintaining a common worship is fidelity to the effort. That may seem tragic, but it is not, since we are called to a common worship, to common prayer--e.g. it is not hubris. As awful as it may seem to say, our situation is not a tragedy at all, but more like a comedy, even a farce.